Tim Blowers, LACA National Chair and Head of County Catering Service at Derbyshire County Council, shares his thoughts on why school meals matter.
The school meals industry in the UK is massive. Thousands of people in the UK are employed in the industry, ranging from local fruit and vegetable suppliers, local taxi firms who deliver school meals, as well as regional distributors and manufacturers that supply the basic products such as potatoes, meat and dairy. In addition to the employment opportunities the industry offers, school meals are also important for improving social inclusion and learning in schools. We know by talking to schools that we have KS1 pupils who start school who have never used cutlery, never eaten a meal around a table or even used a plate! Furthermore, the school meals service makes every effort to feed all types of special diets and allergens that are all too common today.
The process of getting children to understand and accept the benefits of a healthier diet is a huge challenge. This is something that has been going on long before Jamie Oliver in 2005. If you look at the statistics, you will clearly see that with the introduction of universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) in 2014, figures are higher than they have been in a generation. We are now reaping benefits with increasing numbers of secondary school-aged children taking healthier options in schools. The skills and knowledge children pick up eating healthy meals will be invaluable as they move into higher education and work. It is for that reason, school meals should always be at the heart of a healthy policy.
As to whether school meals should be viewed as a public service and not simply a traded part of the council offering, I believe it should. However, we have services that are delivered by schools themselves and private contractors that are good. For me, the real issue is the lack of monitoring from OFSTED around the school standards. If we continue as we are, then there will be a risk that providers will cut corners and fail to meet the required standards of the School Food Plan. This issue needs resolving urgently.
LACA is building a database, along with APSE, that shows the size and performance of the school meals industry. This will be important as Brexit looms. Questions will be asked by Ministers about productivity, use of UK products and UK suppliers. LACA will continue to lobby Parliament for improvements to the school meals service. For that reason, your continued support is essential.
Tim will be speaking at the APSE Facilities, Catering and Cleaning Management Seminar in Durham on 25-26 January. For more information on how to book click here.