School meal rules should apply to academies - parents

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Parents want meals in academies and free schools to be bound by the same nutrition standards as those in local authority schools, a report suggests.

Some 92% of parents polled also said they wanted an independent body to ensure the standards were met.

Academies and free schools in England are not bound by government regulations on school food.

Jamie Oliver, who campaigns for better school meals, urged the government "to do something positive with the data".

The TV chef supports demands for legislation on school meal nutrition to apply to all schools. Currently academies and free schools are expected to comply with the standards on a voluntary basis.

Almost three-quarters of the parents polled (73%) also said they believed no students except sixth-formers should be allowed out at lunchtime with 35% saying they thought that even sixth-formers should have to stay on site for lunch.

Standard concerns

Some 83% of the 12,000 parents who responded to an online poll agreed that schools in areas of deprivation should be given extra money for their catering service.

A quarter of the parents polled said they wanted breakfasts to be provided by schools. More than 8% of secondary school parents admitted their children left home without breakfast.

Despite the enthusiasm for good nutrition, more than half of the parents polled (57%) said they did not know whether their child's school was definitely meeting the standards.

Some 91% of parents said they were very happy with the school meals service they received, with almost three-quarters (72%) saying the quality of the food was key and 87% saying they found school meals good value for money.

The survey was carried out for the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) and the online dinner money company ParentPay.

Clint Wilson, of ParentPay, said school meals staff were "on the front line in tackling public health issues".

He added: "What we need now is for the government to support this agenda with the same conviction as the industry and the same passion as our parents."

Anne Bull, of LACA, said: "While much has been achieved as the result of the hard work of schools and caterers, additional measures to enhance this progress would help children and young people achieve their potential both academically and physically."

Judy Hargadon, of Children's Food Trust, said: "What really comes through here is how much parents want the reassurance of knowing that the food their child is being offered at school will be tasty and affordable, but also nutritious - which is why school food standards have such a key part to play...

"It's great to see such support from parents for 'stay on site' policies, which mean that children aren't going out of school at lunchtime, taking away the temptation to go out and buy things like crisps, sweets and sugary drinks for lunch rather than food that will fuel them up well for the afternoon."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Some maintained schools and academies have said that they find the food standards too bureaucratic, difficult to administer and rigid.

"Many academies are actually exceeding the standards and are offering their pupils very high quality, nutritional food. We have asked independent reviewers to consider the best way to help all schools offer good, well-balanced food.

"It is encouraging to see that the majority of parents are satisfied with schools meals and see them as affordable. The quality of school food is absolutely vital. That is why we are looking at the role that food and cooking plays in schools and how this can help to get our children eating well."

Shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson, said: "This just shows Michael Gove is totally out of touch with the views of parents. They understand that school meals should be healthy and nutritious whatever type of school you attend - but Michael Gove has exempted over a million children from healthy meals.

"Labour would change that, so that the rules developed with Jamie Oliver would apply to every school in England."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Children should be kept in school until they are at least 15.

    It suits schools let children out because they don't need as many teachers to supervise.

    It's lazy practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Fragmenting the education system in the way in which academies has done is an abdication of responsibility by the government.

    Not applying food standards or requiring teachers to have the correct qualifications is appalling.

    Education, like utilities, is not really suitable to becoming a market place - unless you're willing to spend hours ferrying your children to/from your preferred school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    When I was at school I always liked and ate the scholl dinners, but many of my peers thought the food was putrid.

    I now realise that the kids who thought the food was disgusting normally ate pizza and chips at home.

    Now I eat relatively healthy food and my weight is stable, but my former school friends are over weight and still eat unhealthy food.

    Best to learn young

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Unfortunately academies view the provision of junk food as a way of raising money. One local school in Bournemouth reinstalled the vending machine as soon as they became an academy. Not only are the pupils eating food filled with empty calories, the litter on the school field has increased massively.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Seems to make sense to me that the standards cover all areas that apply to feeding children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    In the 1960s school meals were 1/- (5p) you sat at a table and had a no-choice 2 course lunch (aka dinner ie dinner ladies not lunch ladies). I imagine the food was not subject to all kinds of politically correct interference it was just common sense decent food.
    It seems we have gone backwards not forwards, these past 50 years and looking at the education budget it cannot be due to money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Are these parents stupid? Biggest recession and slashing cuts ever and they want another bloated layer of civil service to oversea what their sprogs are scarfing down for lunch?
    Here's an idea... take some responsibility for your children. Tell them what's good to eat and what's not and tell them why.
    Its called spending time with your kids and placing a bit of trust in them; a.k.a parenting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Of course school meals should be healthy, if parents want to shovel rubbish into their kids at home then that's up to them, but whilst they are under the responsibility of the school they are obliged to act in their best interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Those in favour of academies and "free" schools seem to want their bread buttered on both sides. They want to break from local authority direction, yet they want the safeguards it can provide. Think before what you might be missing before you opt out....

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Proper food is fundamental to health. There is no reason on earth why any school, academy or not, should be exempt from food standards rules.
    Even if the meals are currently better than required, the legal framework is the safety net that our children have a right to rely on.
    School food is still pretty dire anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Back in the day once you were at school you weren't allowed out at lunchtime.

    Reintroduce this rule so that the kids have to eat in the school - and then either the parents or the school can control what's eaten far more effectively...

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    It should be taken for granted that school meals are of sufficient nutritional quality, as is the case in Finland, to mention only one example. Free to every child in education as well. One place where a bit of state control might be welcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    You can bring in whatever auditing and quality control you wish, but a young person will frequently find a way to consume the food that their parents would least like them to. At least with modern on-line systems, parents can cast an eye over what their children have purchased to eat. My regret is that there are too few parents willing to take any responsibility and so just won't bother.


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