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School meals survey shows big quality gap

30 March 2005 by
School meals survey shows big quality gap

Seventy-five percent of primary schools are spending less than 50p per pupil on food, but the quality of meals offered by schools varies hugely, according to new research from the Soil Association.
Data collected from local education authorities around England and Wales showed that, while some schools spend as much as 70p on food per meal, others spend as little as 37p.
While the well-heeled London borough of Wandsworth spends 70p per child on ingredients, Rotherham in Yorkshire, Birmingham, Greenwich in London and Redcar & Cleveland in Tyneside all shell out less than 40p per child.
Almost 60% of schools which responded to the Soil Association's survey said that take-up of school meals was less than half, falling as low as 26% in Oxfordshire.
Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director, said: "There are two vital things missing in [Education Secretary] Ruth Kelly's recent announcement on school meals - the introduction of baseline nutritional standards for school meals, and increased funding to pay for decent ingredients and for extra hours in the kitchen."
The Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) hit back at the report, however, saying that low ingredient costs did not automatically indicate lower-quality school meals.
A statement said: "In some cases, more money might be spent on the extra hours put in by staff in the kitchen for preparation of meals cooked from scratch. While this means higher labour costs, food costs could be lower because fresh ingredients, particularly when in season, are cheaper to buy than manufactured, convenience foods."
LACA chairman Neil Porter said: "It is not sensible to compare food costs in isolation - it is about food plus labour. It is essential that these two key elements of school meal budgeting are considered together."
Both LACA and the Soil Association reiterated their call for greater Government investment in school meals.
LACA estimated that at least 50p per head must be spent on fresh ingredients to make improvements to the food, but added that other investments were required, too.

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