Exclusive Caterer research has found that the poor state of school kitchens in England and Wales might hamper the Government's push towards healthier food.
The survey, in association with the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA), questioned senior catering managers from across England and Wales, representing nearly 10,000 schools, about the state of the equipment and kitchens in their authority.
Two-thirds of managers described up to 25% of the kitchens in their area as poor, while 3% labelled more than three-quarters with the same tag.
One in five respondents said that between 75% and 100% of their kitchens were more than 30 years old, while 77% said that at least one piece of equipment was of the same age. Meanwhile, 17% said their kitchens contained one item of equipment more than 50 years old. Most of the ageing items were ovens.
Former LACA chairman Neil Porter said he believed the results showed how school kitchens had been left to stagnate. "The results come as no surprise," he said. "When you look at the pieces of equipment and their age and condition it reflects a lack of Government funding over the years."
While Porter welcomed the Government's extra £220m over three years, he believed it wouldn't necessarily lead to a brighter future. "The money is a good start but it's not going to bring kitchens up to spec in three years. There needs to be regular reviews on the impact of the money and there may need to be more cash at the end," he said.
Food service consultant Julian Edwards said that schools also had to play their part as the new money came online. "As more delegated funding goes to schools, the onus is now on head teachers to decide where the money should go, but they may find it hard to take money away from educational facilities such as a new maths block," he said.
The survey also revealed that more than a quarter of schools did not have trained cooks able to prepare fresh food at all of the kitchens in their area. One catering manager said: "Training away from the workplace is more effective but this would require setting up and funding training centres within regions. The current NVQs are too general and bureaucratic."
But Edwards believed many staff had untapped talents: "There's not a major problem, staff just need more time to prepare food and more hands in the kitchen to deliver this."
By Tom Bill