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School Meals and the Children and Families Bill

What does the recent Children and Families Bill mean for schools? From September 2014 primary school head teachers will have a statutory duty to provide free lunches for reception, year 1 and year 2 pupils.

School Meals and the Children and Families Bill

Preparing for change

The government have also announced funding of £2.30 for each pupil per meal, £150 million capital funding and transitional funding for one year of £22.5 million to small schools with less than 150 pupils on roll. Schools should contact their local authority to find out what funding is available and if they are able to receive any of the capital fund made available by the Department for Education. Academy trusts have also been able to access funding through the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund.

For many schools providing free school meals for all KS1 children from September will be a huge challenge but the Carson Catering Ltd school meals advice service is set to provide schools with the support they need to develop and improve their catering facilities. Gordon Carson, Managing Director of Carson Catering Ltd said “during the course of my work I’ve seen the problems schools encounter in delivering high quality, nutritious, interesting food to young people. There are so many competing demands on young people’s time at school they often end up eating lunch on the go or at mid-morning breaks and sitting down with friends to eat a healthy meal is often not their priority. Increasing uptake in school meals is a big ask and no one should underestimate the challenge.  It will take a shift in mind-set, we need to think of our children as customers and as soon as we do this, school meals take up will increase.

Schools will have to think about changes to staffing, how they can forecast the amount of meals they’ll need to provide and how to cater for special dietary needs. A common concern is how schools will manage the increased number of children eating school meals. Changing the layout of tables and chairs to make things flow better, making lunchtimes longer or perhaps staggering lunchtimes for different year groups could be the answer. Every school’s situation is different so our approach is to provide advice that is specific to their circumstances. A one size fits all solution doesn’t work here”

The school catering industry is worth over £1 billion to the UK economy and employs more than 100,000 workers, making it, as one commentator has recently said, “a bigger workforce than the Royal Navy.” Education caterers are responsible for feeding 3.1 million children and young people every day in over 22,000 schools. Chefs/cooks and kitchen teams are employed variously by the local authority (56 per cent), a private contract caterer (32 per cent) or directly for a school that has brought its catering in-house (12 per cent).

The School Food Plan

The plan was prepared by the founders of the Leon restaurant chain Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent. It includes a range of measures to drive-up school food standards and divert the £1bn it says parents spend on packed lunches back into the system. All the evidence suggests that if children have a healthy school meal they’ll do better in the classroom and that’s something which is in everyone’s long-term interest.  Only one per cent of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards that currently apply to school food. The authors of the plan claim that the majority of children bring packed lunches to school as parents mistakenly believe that it is the healthiest option.

The take up of school food currently averages at about 48 per cent across the UK and is continuing to grow. However, to be financially viable the service needs to be at least 50-55 per cent otherwise it will need to be subsidised by either school budgets or local council funding. Increasing take up requires commitment from the head teachers, governing bodies and school leadership teams. Food needs to be cooked that is nutritious, appetising and attractive to the pupils. It needs to be served and eaten in dining halls that have a calm and welcoming environment.

If you can empathise with some of the issues mentioned above and would like help and advice on the whole issue of providing healthy school meals, contact Gordon Carson FIH FCSI, Director, Carson Catering Ltd on 01606 891081 / 07738 153183 or visit www.carsoncatering.co.uk

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