The Government has revealed it has no intention of introducing nutritional standards in academies and free schools, despite pressure from local authority caterers.
Sandra Russell, chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA), told the LACA conference she had received a letter from Sarah Teather (pictured), minister of state for children and families, in response to her appeal in May for nutritional standards to be enforced in academies and free schools.
She raised concerns that parents would ânot be impressed if the âflagshipâ schools in the country return to selling crisps, carbonated sugary drinks and confectioneryâ.
But Teather, who responded on behalf of the prime minister, deputy prime minister and secretary of state for education, said that schools converting to academies âwill already have been providing healthy, balanced mealsâ that meet the current standards.
She said: âWe have no reason to believe that they will stop doing so on conversion, or that free schools will not do so either.â
Teather went on to say she was not aware of any evidence that academies provide meals that are less nutritious than those in maintained schools, adding: âAs part of the broader freedoms given to academies and free schools, we trust the professionals to act in the best interests of their pupils.â
However caterers argued this did little to address fears that without regular inspection, standards will not be maintained.
Calvin Hanks, quality director at training provider CJ Group, said he wasnât aware of anyone enforcing the nutritional standards anyway.
He said: âI know of schools where the catering, some run by the school and some by contractors, ignore the requirements and serve what they like. After all, no one checked on them.â
In Russellâs original letter, she demanded to know why the government didnât beef up enforcement of those legislated standards via Ofsted inspections.
But Teather said that the Department for Education has set out proposals to reform school inspections in a bid to make them more proportionate and âfree the best schools from routine inspectionâ, adding that parents are key players in monitoring the quality of food at their childrenâs school.
She said: âGoverning bodies and local authorities are legally responsible for meeting the school food standards.
âIf they do not, any person can complain to the secretary of state who can then, if necessary, issue a direction to the school.â
school meal Inspections in Scotland
In Scotland, school meal inspections are carried out by the countryâs equivalent of Ofsted. Lindsay Graham, director at consultancy firm LGL, explained (via a discussion in LinkedIn group âWe Work in the School Meals Industryâ): âInspection of food in schools has been carried out by HMIE [HM Inspectorate of Educating] in Scotland for the past four years.
âI have always advocated that school meals should be part of school inspections throughout the UK. It gives value to the nurturing efforts of the non-teaching staff and places a responsibility on the schools to ensure the pupils have a positive experience of food in the learning environment.
âI for one would welcome the English government having school food and wellbeing as part of the school inspection framework. They donât have to reinvent the wheel; the model is in Scotland and it has been working.â
By Janie Stamford
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Published by: The Caterer