More needs to be done to get headteachers and parents on side if school dinners reform is to succeed, exclusive Caterer research has revealed.
In a poll of 100 senior professionals working directly in or associated with the school meals sector, 88% felt more needed to be done to get the full support of headteachers.
The poll, which kicks off Caterer‘s Education Month, in association with Premier Foods, found that headteachers and senior teaching staff (55%) and parents (42%) were seen as the most important allies in improving school meals.
An overwhelming 92% of respondents felt school meals success, where it occurred, should get more recognition from education watchdog Ofsted.
School meals campaigner Jackie Schneider said the situation was not improving, despite the launch of the School Food Trust‘s Million Meals initiative last autumn, which asked headteachers to sign up to the scheme to boost school meals uptake.
"Headteachers still see school meals as optional," she told Caterer. "If you have an enthusiastic headteacher than you are OK but those that don't want to get involved and take a lead can still ignore things such as Million Meals."
According to Schneider, headteachers are nervous about taking on such a big project when they have competing priorities such as crumbling buildings and management of their own staff. "The Government needs either to do more to hold their hands or instead to say you will be judged on school meals - now deliver," she said.
Jane Bristow, managing director at schools caterer Sodexo Education, agreed that the most successful schools had headteachers supportive of healthy eating initiatives. "These schools work closely with us and regularly promote a healthy eating policy to parents and pupils," she said. "They also allow a full lunch break so that pupils can sit and take time to enjoy food."
Sodexo, which has just launched its Food for Sport Week, with support from 14-year-old Olympic diver Tom Daley (who is sponsored by the company), added that "education campaigns and communication campaigns" remained key to winning over head teachers.
Local Authority Caterers Association chairwoman Sandra Russell said: "Head teachers and parents involvement is crucial. Caterers can only do so much as the management of the environment that school meals provision take place is the ultimate responsibility of the school."
School meals in numbers
- 80% of caterers are ready for this summer's new nutritional standards for primary school food.
- 80% feel meal quality is very important in the awarding of contracts.
- 60% believe meal cost is very important in the awarding of contracts.
- 57% view the use of organic food as not important or not very important.
- 78% say food inflation is putting pressure on the viability of their school meals contract.
By Chris Druce
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