School meal numbers rise for fourth year

Published on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 09:19
Posted by Scott Buckler

The number of children having healthy school meals in England has risen for a fourth year running – with an estimated 167,000 more children using their school dining rooms last year

New figures, reported by local authorities and published this morning by the Children's Food Trust, show that an average of 46.3 per cent of children in England's primary schools – the equivalent of 1,994,877* children – and 39.8 per cent of pupils in secondary school – the equivalent of 1,298,529* pupils – opted for school meals in the 2011-12 year.

Data from local authorities taking part in the survey indicate a national increase in take up of 2.2 percentage points on 2010-11, up from 44.1 per cent and 37.6 per cent in primary and secondary schools respectively.

The number of local authorities reporting to the survey was lower than in previous years** but in a subset of councils which did report in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, take up also rose – by 1.2 percentage points in primary schools and 1.8 percentage points in secondary schools, compared with 2010-2011.

Nationally, it means that since robust national monitoring began in 2008-09 – as the impact of focused efforts and investment to improve food in schools began to be seen – almost half a million more children have switched from packed lunches to school meals.

Other key figures:

  • The average price of a school meal rose by 5p, increasing from an average of £1.93 in 2010-11 to £1.98 in 2011-12 – below food inflation rates
  • Almost 3.3 million children* had healthy school meals every day in 2011-12
  • 2,196,306 million of them pay for their meals, whilst 1,097,100 have free school meals
  • The equivalent of almost 626 million healthy school lunches were served up last year
  • Just over two thirds of primary school children in Inner London now have a school lunch, compared with less than a third in South West England, so there is still a lot of work to do to bring more children school into dining rooms.

The results will be presented at the Nutrition Society's at Queen's University in Belfast today.

Children's Food Trust chairman, Rob Rees, said: "Our school canteens have the potential to be such powerhouses for children's health and their performance at school – as long as schools, cooks and caterers get the support they need to keep this progress going.

"If a child eats in their school dining room every day, that's hundreds of chances to help that child eat well – on top of the fact that simply by having a better meal inside them at lunchtime, children learn better in their afternoon lessons.

"With more of them eating school meals, it's more important than ever to make sure the food they get tastes good, gives them the nutrition they need and that they have an experience which makes them want to go back for more.

"The recently-announced review of school food has an opportunity to make sure the right policies and support for schools and caterers are in place, to help them keep these numbers going up. Good data about how schools are doing on take up and other issues will be crucial for getting those policies right."

Source: ©School Food Trust

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