02 February 2022
Steps forward on school food monitoring
Steps forward on school food monitoring: the Levelling Up white paper
Today’s Levelling Up White Paper has announced several new measures on school food, which represent a substantial step forward in ensuring that children can eat well at school, no matter where they live or what school they go to.
We welcome the commitment to embed and resource a whole school approach to school food, which aligns with recommendations made in the National Food Strategy. This includes specific training and support for school governors and three years of funding to support food teachers in educating children to cook healthy recipes. Schools are also being asked to publish statements on the arrangements for their ‘whole school approach’ to school food. This will initially be voluntary but will become mandatory.
While there are many examples of brilliant school food, we know that in some cases the School Food Standards are not being met. For many children, a school lunch can be their only substantial meal of the day demonstrating how vital it is we make every meal the best it can be. To help address this, the White Paper proposes new measures to improve school food accountability in the form of mandatory reporting and piloting a new quality assurance role for the Food Standards Agency.
More robust school food monitoring is something that we have been calling for over many years, and has been identified as a priority by the School Food Review working group of which we are part. While these announcements represent positive steps in the right direction, we now need to see the detail of how inspections will work in practice, ensuring that these deliver real cultural change in schools and are not just a tick-box exercise. We see this as an important step towards mandatory accreditation, as recommended in the National Food Strategy, which will further drive up standards.
Our Children’s Right2Food Ambassadors have been celebrating today’s steps forward on school food monitoring – which are testament to their dedicated campaigning on this issue since they originally set out their Children’s Right2Food Charter in 2019. They have had many meetings with the Department for Education and with Ministers, including the current Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, and are proud to have played a part in the progress made today.
Two of our Young Food Ambassadors gave us their reactions:
Dev: “Back in 2019, we set out in our Children’s Right2Food Charter the need for school food standards to be monitored. Since then, we’ve had many meetings with Government Ministers and Department for Education officials to talk about why it’s so important that school food delivers good nutrition for children - especially when we know for many it may be the only proper meal they’ll eat that day. I’m really pleased that the Government has listened to us young people and today committed to improving school food quality. It’s now more important than ever for us young people to have a seat at the table so our experiences are at the heart of plans as they progress.”
Asha: “As someone on free school meals I know that, for many children, the meal we get at school can be the most important of the day – it can sometimes be our only meal. We need to rely on it being good quality every day, and in every school. Recently, I’ve been eating a sausage roll at breaktime and skipping school lunch because it’s just not up to standard. With the government’s announcement today, we now have a real opportunity to make things better."
Despite today’s steps forward we are disappointed that gaps remain on Free School Meal entitlement, improved school food uptake, and better school food funding mechanisms. The Food Foundation and our Young Food Ambassadors will continue to push for progress in these areas, alongside the School Food Review working group.
Saffron, another of our Young Food Ambassadors said: “I’m really happy to see Government taking seriously the need to properly deliver good quality school food. But I’m sad that our call to extend free school meal eligibility to more children from low-income households has again been overlooked in the Government’s White Paper. If the Prime Minister believes in levelling up, making sure no child goes hungry should surely be first on his agenda. Right now, educational and health inequalities are worse than ever – if we do what’s right, school food can be a way to make sure that every child can concentrate in class and grow up fit and healthy.