Save our School Food Standards

Published on Tuesday, 03 April 2012 14:56
Written by Stephanie Wood

In 2007 I founded the charity, School Food Matters. We campaign for fresh sustainable food in schools and promote food education through cooking, growing and links with local farms

In recent years we have run a successful campaign to get fresh sustainable food back onto the plates of primary school children in the London boroughs of Richmond and Kingston.  We thought we’d now have time to sit back and watch as the take-up of these delicious meals continues to rise each term.  Sadly this was not to be and we find ourselves once more campaigning at full throttle – this time to try and reverse our Government’s baffling decision to exempt academies and free schools from the national school food standards, a decision that is already affecting over a million children.

Until now, the standards have been mandatory in all schools and the positive outcome of this intervention is well-documented; junk food is out, more fruit and veg is in and caterers are all singing from the same hymn sheet, with standards ensuring that they can provide meals reflecting a commitment to health, rather than menus driven by cost.

A healthy school meal and statutory standards have been highlighted as successful mechanisms for fighting obesity and improving attainment so why risk an erosion of the progress we have made?

And spare a thought for head teachers.  With local government spending cuts, we’ve seen the departure of nutritionists, healthy schools co-ordinators and sustainability officers – the ambassadors within local government to champion good food and healthier lifestyles.  Without this help, heads without expertise in this area rely on the school food standards to provide a framework to ensure a good service.   A recent ATL survey reflected this with 82% of respondents in favour of standards for all.

So, what’s the plan?  Jamie Oliver, Children’s Food Campaign, LACA and the Food for Life Partnership all agree that the government needs to make the cost-neutral decision to return to mandatory standards in all schools and we’re prepared to make a noise about it.  Parliamentary push has come from Zac Goldsmith MP in the form of EDM 2854, calling for the mandatory school food standards to apply to all schools without exemption.  Zac Goldsmith said  "For many children, school is the one sure place where a quality meal can be guaranteed.  We not only need to guard existing standards, we need to radically improve them."

A decision to Save our School Food Standards would show that our Government is mindful of the problem we face with childhood obesity (not to mention the enormous cost of food-related illness to the NHS) and that it prioritises children's health and well-being above freedom from regulation.  So come on Michael Gove!  Leave Ofqual alone for a minute and grab this opportunity to show that you care about children’s health and not just their exam results!

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