Caterers doubt the value of variable pricing in schools

09 September 2011 by
Caterers doubt the value of variable pricing in schools

Education Bill sets out plans to allow heads to offer discounts on school meals, but caterers have questioned the practicality of Government proposals to use variable pricing to encourage more pupils into the school canteen.

Caterers have questioned the practicality of Government proposals to use variable pricing to encourage more pupils into the school canteen.

Ministers have laid out plans in the Government's Education Bill to allow head teachers to offer discounts on the price of school meals in a bid to ensure more children benefit from a nutritious lunch.

The proposals, which will be debated next month, target groups such as children in their first months at school and low-income families who aren't eligible for free school meals.

Extra administration
While a renewed focus on the importance of school meals has been welcomed, the industry is wary of adding an extra administrative layer to school meal provision.

Simon James, managing director of Eden Foodservice, said: "We as contractors don't have access to that information and the cost of administering it would probably wipe out any discount they were getting.

"Maybe we should offer all the children coming into their first year of primary school a lower price; maybe we carry it through to the second year."

Despite agreeing that price promotions were successful at driving school meals take-up, Lynda Mitchell, chair-elect of the Local Authority Caterers Association, said they were unsustainable and urged Government to be more creative at tackling the issue of funding.

She added: "We perhaps need to look further afield to see if it would be appropriate for the NHS - which will benefit in the long-run from healthier children today becoming healthier adults tomorrow - to contribute to keeping the price down across the board."

price promotions
John Roe, managing director of education caterer Aspens Services, was more sceptical about the proposals because of the "broken" system currently in place to manage free school meals.

He said that Government interest in school meals was welcome but that it should prioritise reform of the free school meal system, citing inconsistencies in the way caterers were paid to provide them.

"Government should legislate for school catering departments to receive free school meal grants in full, to benefit those most in need - as was intended by the original legislation - before moving to further subsidise other categories of those in need," he explained.

"With Government funding in short supply, efficiencies in managing existing spending may fund further programmes of social welfare spending without the need to allocate additional Government capital."

"We work in the school meals industry"
A LinkedIn group discussion…

Phil Brown I am always looking at ways of getting more students eating at my secondary school. Offers do work; this month I am starting a 99p menu which includes food and a fruit juice. Looking at what students are buying on the high street and replicating it in a healthier way seems to work, too, as it's food that they are familiar with.

Arnold Fewell The ability to alter price will have a number of benefits, especially for those parents with more than one child at school age. I also believe we need to move all payment online to a system like ParentPay, as this saves so much secretarial time and encourages much more goodwill towards the catering service. Price reductions will help but improving the payment system will assist even more.

Clint Wilson We helped North Yorkshire by building some extra flexibility into our online payment system to allow school administrators to manage the sibling discount, but overall we find that variable pricing, while common in secondary schools through meals deals and discounts, is quite uncommon in primary schools. The added complexity brings an additional overhead, unless systems are used to help reduce the admin.

The value of price

â- 47% of parents believed that school meals should be free for all pupils.
â- 8% of parents would be prepared to pay £2.50 or more for a healthy, two-course school meal.

By Janie Stamford

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