Posted on 16 July 2013 by Sarah Kitchen, Director of Business Planning
Last week the Government launched its School Food Plan to much media fanfare. Putting aside the rather misleading coverage about banning packed lunches (the plan doesn’t recommend this, as it turns out), two elements of the plan really stood out to me, because we’ve done research that sheds light on how the recommendations will work.
The School Food Plan is the result of a year-long investigation by the founders of the Leon restaurant chain that sets out actions for schools, local authorities and government to improve take-up of school meals and change the culture of food in schools.
The School Food Plan emphasises the role of heads as school food leaders, with new Ofsted criteria to measure success. Research we conducted with headteachers to inform the plan suggests that actually this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. The majority were already providing leadership on school food, with 78% saying they were on board with the principle of good food and worked hard to achieve it. This was underpinned by a belief that eating well had positive effects on pupils’ education: 91% agreed that eating healthy, nutritious food improved attainment. Some head teachers felt that they needed more guidance to help them provide leadership on school food and the good news is that the plan includes provision for additional training.
The second thing that stood out to me about the Plan was its recommendation that free school meals are made available to all primary school children. This recommendation was made as a result of evidence showing potential benefits, including research we did that showed this worked, both in terms of school meal uptake and improving children’s attainment. Our evaluation of universal Free School Meals pilots in Newham and Durham found that most pupils took school meals when they were offered free of charge. We also found positive impacts on attainment at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 suggesting that the cost of providing free meals (estimated at £900 million) could be a worthwhile investment in pupils’ education as well as their health.
This is the only recommendation that the Government have not yet agreed to implement, although Michael Gove is said to support it in principle. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a reality.