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Plan to increase take-up of school dinners


A plan of action designed to improve the quality and take up of school food has been published today with the help of a Newcastle University academic.

Ashley Adamson, Professor of Public Health Nutrition was one of the advisors for the School Food Plan which includes a range of actions to drive up standards, put the kitchen at the heart of school life and divert some of the £1bn parents currently spend on packed lunches back into the system.

A year ago, Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove asked Leon restaurant founders, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, to work with schools, councils, caterers, parents and government to set out how to increase the number of children eating good food in schools.

The actions set out today in the Plan include: £16.1m of new money to boost take up in schools and ensure thousands of children get healthy breakfast; a checklist for headteachers to help improve the ‘food culture;’ in their schools, and the launch of two flagship London boroughs to help prove that better school food can have a significant impact on children’s health and attainment.

The benefits of a school lunch

Welcoming the plan, Michael Gove said: “The whole virtue of the School Food Plan is that it’s there to help – it emphasises the vital importance of making sure food is high quality and tasty and creating a culture in your school where everyone appreciates the importance of food.

“What I’d like to see is more children eating school lunches and fewer having packed lunches, and more children feeling healthier and more energetic throughout the day.”

Professor Adamson said: “The School Food Plan offers an exciting opportunity to build on the huge improvement in school food since the introduction of Standards.

“We know that children who have a school lunch have better nutrition than those who have packed lunch. We also know that there are unacceptable inequalities in nutrition; children from poorer families have poorer nutrition. Much has been achieved already but making sure as many children as possible benefit from a healthy school lunch is not just about improving food. We need to make school lunch the preferred option.

“The School Food Plan adds new life to the whole school approach with a firm Government commitment to standards but it also creates a vision where good food is part of the ethos of a good school where children can experience the pleasure and health benefits of growing, cooking, sharing and enjoying nutritious food.”

Actions in the plan include:

• A £16.1 million injection of cash from the Department for Education over the next two years. This includes £11.8 million that organisations such as the Children’s Food Trust and the Food For Life Partnership can bid for to help turn around schools that are struggling with their lunch service, £3.15 million to ensure healthy breakfasts are available for thousands of children who arrive at school hungry.

• A practical checklist for headteachers, listing the most important things they or their team can do to that can make a big difference to take-up and food culture in schools. The checklist is based on the examples of what is working well that the reviewers have seen in their trips to over 60 schools in the country. They are designed to be pinned up in the head’s office and the kitchen. Suggested actions include:
o   Lowering the price of school meals - consider subsidising school meals for your reception and year 7 classes for the first term, or offer discounts for parents of multiple children or those whose children eat a school lunch every day;
o   Teachers should be encouraged to eat with the children in the dining hall;
o   Have a stay-on-site rule for break and lunch time;
o   Have a cashless payment system to shorten queuing times and prevent free school meal children from being stigmatised;
o   Offer after school cooking lessons for parents with their children;
o   Make sure packed lunches are not more exciting than school lunches. Ban sugary drinks, crisps and confectionery, or offer prizes and other incentives for bringing in a healthy lunch. Or ban packed lunches altogether;
o   Watch what gets served at mid-morning break. Many children eat their main meal at this time which too often means filling up on pizza, paninis or cake.

• The launch of two flagship London boroughs to help prove that better school food can have a significant impact on children’s health and attainment. Every school in each area will receive co-ordinated support from expert organisations such as the Children’s Food Trust to improve the quality and take up of school meals and spread great food culture through the wider community.  The Department for Education and the Mayor’s Office will jointly fund the boroughs.

• The Department for Education will test and introduce a set of revised food based standards (built on a nutritional framework), with the intention of applying them to maintained schools and all new academies and free schools by September 2014.

• Ofsted will amend its guidance to inspectors to consider behaviour and culture in the dining hall and the way a school promotes healthy lifestyles.

• Co-founder of Innocent smoothies Richard Reed and branding expert Wally Olins will help devise a strategy to improve the image of school food, and Jamie Oliver has agreed to help through his media work.

• Ensuring cooking is in the curriculum for all children up to the age of 14. The new curriculum will emphasise the importance of cooking nutritious, savoury dishes, understanding where food comes from, and taking pleasure in the creative arts of the kitchen.

• The government will investigate the case for extending free school meals entitlement.

Covered by the media, other actions in the plan include: including food and nutrition in headteacher training, action to ensure small schools are funded fairly, a five measure test to judge whether the School Food Plan is working, and a new ‘what works well’ website to share best practice. In addition, in September Change4Life – the government’s biggest existing public awareness campaign – will launch a new ‘Back to School’ pledge. This will consist of five healthy behaviours, one of which will be a promise by parents to give their child a school dinner.

published on: 12 July 2013