The Lead Association for Catering in Education's annual Main Event always attracts the best from the school food sector. Katey Pigden reports on the array of talks, panels, and competitions that took place
The theme of the 2016 Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA) Main Event was ‘Lead, Inspire, Empower'. The jam-packed event, which took place at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole between 6-8 July, featured workshops, presentations, cooking demonstrations, awards and an exhibition with more than 160 stalls.
The programme of speakers reinforced the positive message of the theme, according to LACA event chair Neil Porter. The keynote address was delivered by Tony Draper, the immediate past president of the National Association of Head Teachers.
He shared his experience of transforming a failing primary school into one rated as "outstanding" in all areas by Ofsted. He discussed how he was able to lead, inspire and empower his team at Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes in a challenging environment. He described leadership as selling a vision in order to get the team to sign up to it.
Draper also took part in a panel discussion entitled Uniting Leadership in Education, along with Dave Harris, managing director of Independent Thinking; Rowena Herbert, executive head teacher at Bolsover C of E Junior School, and St Joseph's Catholic and C of E Primary School; and Peter McGrath, LACA national chair.
Specialist Caterer/Catering Team of the Year winners Nottingham City Council
The panel talked about the importance of all staff members working together on a shared vision to put food high on the agenda at education establishments.
Harris said: "Schools have become fixated on numbers and the bottom line, but leadership is about so much more. Food should be at the heart of what we do. I remember being asked about my vision for food when I was a head teacher and I said I didn't want to make a profit from it. Instead I wanted it to be interesting and exciting."
His views were echoed by Herbert, who said: "Food is at the centre of everything at my schools, from farming to gardening and cooking. It's important to talk to the children as they often think more outside the box than staff."
Draper added: "A growing number of head teachers are recognising the importance of nutrition and how it affects learning. Head teachers would love to do the important things rather than the numbers."
The Nan Berger Memorial Award winners GS Plus
Tapping into funding
Delegates also heard from Paul O'Brien, chief executive at the Association for Public Service Excellence, who discussed the contribution school meals make to public health. His talk covered what has happened to funding since the transfer of responsibility for public health from central to local government in 2013.
He said: "We have a growing obesity problem in the UK. One in five children start primary school overweight or obese and that rises to one in three when they leave, according to Public Health England.
"School caterers play a crucial role, which is undervalued and underfunded. You need to talk up your role more to the public, politicians and the Government. Make the case for what you do and the benefits you bring. You need to be talking the right language to get near the funding."
O'Brien put a question to the audience: "How many of you are extremely confident universal infant free school meals [UIFSM] will still be available in 2020?" Not a single hand in the room went up. He added: "Consider what you're good at and admit what you're not good at. You will be fighting for funding against competing priorities."
"At this troubling time we must ensure that we look to retain nutritious and healthy free school meals for those most in need, as well as UIFSM, so that young children develop beneficial eating habits."
Uniting Leadership in Education panel: Dave Harris, Rowena Herbert, Tony Draper and Peter McGrath
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, addressed delegates about the road ahead for school food and what still needs to be done.
She said: "You help feed children, day in, day out, and should be thanked endlessly for that, but I want to say directly to you all: thank you for what you did in making our shared dream of UIFSM a reality that is proving a world of difference to children's lives."
"This doesn't mean our fight is over to improve the food on offer to children - far from it," she added.
Hodgson said she hopes UIFSM are here to stay but advised that LACA and its members should be campaigning to ensure all political parties include it in their manifestos, as the initiative is currently only protected until the end of this parliament.
McDougalls Young Baking Team of the Year 2016
She explained the APPG has worked on addressing issues around food in education in the national curriculum and has raised awareness of the disparity between food in packed lunches and those which are offered as part of a school meal.
"Only 1% of packed lunches meet the Government's nutritional standards," she said.
Hodgson went on to talk about the issue of child hunger, which is a particular problem throughout the summer holidays. She argued that the 175 days a year children are not at school should be as important as the 190 days they are.
"We need to ensure the positive work during term time is not undone by children spending the holidays, especially the long summer holidays, not receiving the necessary food and nutrients to see them through the holidays."
The APPG has set up a Holiday Hunger Task Group, which is chaired by UK school food and health policy advisor Lindsay Graham, to help drive awareness of the need for policy in this area.
Hodgson added: "You may not see yourselves as campaigners, but your voices should, and must, by heard. We cannot forget the long road we have travelled together on school food, but there is an even longer road we must now take before we see child holiday hunger finally addressed. We have a duty to those children we all want to help. We cannot let them down."
McGrath brought the Main Event to a close by reflecting on the theme. He said: "'Lead, Inspire, Empower' is relevant for today, but even more so for tomorrow.
"Our staff deserve good leadership and to be empowered to do better for our children."
Region of the Year Award winners Wales