Improving School Food

The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook has been monitoring progress in Government policy relating to healthy eating in schools since Jamie Oliver’s ground breaking  campaign to improve school food in 2005. This will form part of a major feature on healthy living in the next edition

In the seven years since Jamie Oliver began his campaign to improve school food, there has been a measurable improvement in the number of children taking up school meals and the nutritional quality of the food they are eating. This is the result of work done by a large array of people, including the School Food Trust, associated charities such as School Food Matters and Jamie Oliver’s Foundation – not to mention the individual cooks, teachers, parents, pupils, outside caterers and local authorities who have embraced the cause.

There is, however, still much to do. A recent report for the School Food Trust indicated that quality varies across the country. Some schools have transformed their school dinners; many have also introduced food growing into the curriculum and continue to teach cooking, to give children a lasting education in eating well. But others still struggle to serve good-tasting, nutritious food. The ability of academies to depart from the Food Standards has also stimulated debate about how much freedom schools should have. There is no evidence that food in academies has deteriorated. But the Government accepts the need to consider how the quality of food in all schools can be improved.

School Food Trust research shows that:

  • take up of school lunches is just 38 per cent in secondary schools and 44 per cent in primary schools
  • only 22.5 per cent of schools provide at least one portion of fruit and veg per pupil every day
  • half of secondary schools offer pizzas and starchy food cooked in oil on most days
  • a third of young people are not choosing a healthy balanced meal at school.

So last week the Government announced that it had asked the co-founders of LEON restaurant chain, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, to examine school food across the country. They will create an action plan to accelerate improvement in school food and determine the role of food more broadly in school life.

Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent co-founded the LEON restaurant chain in 2004. Prior to founding LEON, they both have experience of leading large scale change in commercial organisations at the management consultancy Bain & Company and, for John, from the work he did turning around the spirits company, Whyte and Mackay. Prior to Bain, John worked at Procter and Gamble. Henry worked as a chef and as a journalist. Henry is a founder and director of the not-for-profit Sustainable Restaurant Association.

The plan from Henry and John will examine which schools are doing things well and why. It will set out how all schools can reach a standard to be proud of. They will speak to experts, review research and visit schools as well as conduct primary research in order to build up a systematic picture of school food across England. An important part of their work will involve looking at what factors influence school food choices.

To ensure that our children are eating well in schools the plan will address two key questions:

  • what more needs to be done to make tasty, nutritious food available to all school children?
  • how do we excite children about the food so that they want to eat it?

Henry and John have experience in creating nutritious food that tastes good, in large volume, to a budget. They will be looking at all ways that change can be brought about: leadership, communication, rewards, inspiration, training, structures and supply chain, regulation, responsibilities within schools, reporting, and the role of parents and people from the world of food.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

“There has been an improvement in school food in recent years with many schools transforming school dinners, introducing food growing into the curriculum and teaching cookery. However, there is still more to do particularly in taking localised successes and ensuring they are replicated nationally.

“Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent bring a wealth of practical experience in delivering good food on a budget. I am delighted they have agreed to develop a robust plan to improve school food and ensure children are given an education that cultivates in them an understanding of food and nutrition.”

John Vincent said:

“We have a mission at LEON to make it easy for everybody to eat good food. We do it commercially with LEON, and so we are energised by the chance to do so with School Food. We join a powerful and growing team of people who have done so much. What we all now need is an action plan that gets to grips with exactly how the ideas and dreams can be implemented for all kids, and stick.”

Henry Dimbleby said:

“There is so much good work being done to improve school food by people in schools around the country. Our job is to find out which schools are doing well and why. This is a great opportunity to work with those people to set out in a systematic way what needs to be done to nurture and accelerate those improvements.”

This an independent review on behalf of the Secretary of State, and will report directly to him.

Henry and John will work with the Department for Education – seeking input from sector bodies, existing campaign groups, local authorities, caterers, schools and parents – to establish the facts needed to put together their plan. These include:

  • what is the current best practice in the UK and abroad?
  • how can the best be made even better?
  • what other creative ways might there be to raise standards?
  • what support is needed by those schools that have struggled to make improvements?
  • what motivates children and parents when they are choosing between school food and packed lunches?
  • what are the features of successful provision of school food?
  • how might government work alongside other relevant bodies such as the School Food Trust to deliver this?

They will use this work to draw up an action plan that lays out what needs to be done to accelerate the work of the last seven years to ensure that all children eating in English schools are offered good food and given an education that cultivates in them an understanding of food and nutrition.

They will deliver their plan in 2013.

The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Year book will continue to report on all aspects of our health and lifestyle as we go through the months ahead.

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About Parliamentary Yearbook

The Parliamentary Yearbook is a division of Blakes Media who have been publishing the definitive Parliamentary Yearbook for over 40 years; this has also been a successful on-line resource for many years. The Parliamentary Yearbook has three distinct functions: (i) To provide information on topical political, social and business issues to clients of the Parliamentary Yearbook and to members of the public, (ii) To carry out research into such aspects of public and business life that may be of interest to a wider audience for inclusion in reports and features within the Parliamentary Yearbook, and (iii) To assess the value of the publication to the potential readership in specific market sectors and ensure that the publication reaches the best possible target audience. If we can provide assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact the Parliamentary Yearbook.
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