Since the 2013 School Food Plan (SFP) and investment in Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM), government continues to reform education, the UK endures austerity and planning our EU exit.
While few would argue against the longer term benefits of growing, cooking and eating proper food, perhaps it is time to reflect on whether a £600m annual investment is delivering returns (sic), what progress is being made on the School Food Plan actions and what the future holds for school meals?
What the School Food Plan and UIFSM have done for meal uptake
According to the last SFP annual update over 85% of infant pupils are now taking meals and it is thought that take up across the whole primary age group is now averaging 75%
Are schools getting a fair share from the extra meals served or are caterers and suppliers enjoying second helpings on the proceeds?
As many primary schools now serve meals to over three quarters of their pupils, many services are now self-sustainable or capable of generating surpluses for re-investment.
What isn’t always clear is whether the financial rewards from a marked increase in meal numbers is being shared equitably between the school, the staff and the caterer.
Ultimately, schools provide customers, time, equipment and dining space so, as well as the undoubted health, social and academic benefits from successful services, they are surely entitled to a fair share of the extra income -if only to meet higher energy costs.
Similarly, while schools are aware of the need to comply with tendering legislation, this can be a daunting task to fit in to busy schedules,-especially when the daily service runs reasonably well.
So, is your school is striking the right balance or could a professional review help you do even better?
Have the extra meals over stretched kitchens and compromised hygiene and safety?
With a typical 50% increase in daily meals, primary schools have adapted services to cope with the extra demand and hard-working kitchen teams have risen well to the challenge. Sometimes this pressure has led to safety and hygiene being compromised and, with Environmental Health Officers unable to inspect premises as often, it is worth taking a proactive approach to protect a vulnerable age group.
The School Food Plan Office has closed so is the cupboard bare?
The funded SFP office is closed so time will tell if the School Food Plan Alliance – a large group of well-intentioned and very busy professionals- will keep up with the SFP published actions and continue providing valued support, teachers’ cookery training and workforce development.
Similarly, the All Party Parliamentary Group on school food provides a forum for the discussion of matters relating to food education in schools; to push school food up the political agenda; and to provide a vehicle through which external organisations concerned with school food, child hunger and food education can share best practice and establish shared positions and priorities. Let’s hope this forum delivers.
How to have a good service and get a fair slice of the school meals cake
There is little doubt that the School Food Plan improvements should have sustainable rewards for health and education but, in the shorter term, the jury is out on whether schools are receiving enough of the financial benefit from these extra pupil meals or whether they have the time to look for budgetary savings which may already be in their kitchen cupboard.
Working solely in education, Matriculate Consulting will help get best value from your catering service regardless of whether you contract out or run in house.