All children should be able to enjoy healthy food at school every day and develop healthy eating habits that will stay with them throughout their lives.
As set out in the Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014, schools should provide children with healthy food and drink options, and ensure that children get the necessary energy and nutrition throughout the school day. These regulate the food and drink provided at both lunchtime and at other times of the school day. The standards set out that meat or poultry must be provided on three or more days each week, and milk must be available for drinking every day.
Current standards provide a robust yet flexible framework to ensure that pupils receive high quality and nutritious food that builds healthy eating habits for life. The Government continues to promote compliance with the School Food Standards and will keep this under review.
In February 2022, the Levelling Up White Paper outlined the Government’s plan to strengthen adherence. This includes piloting work with the Foods Standards Agency, funding of up to £200,000 in a pilot Governor Training Scheme and encouraging schools to complete a statement on their websites setting out their whole school approach to food.
I note the concerns over the existing requirements for meat and dairy servings at schools. Although the School Food Standards regulate the food and drink provided at both lunchtime and at other times of the school day, the Government believes that head teachers, school governors and caterers are best placed to make decisions about their school food policies, taking into account local circumstances and the needs of their pupils. This applies, for example, to the provision of vegan meals.
Schools should therefore make reasonable adjustments for pupils with particular requirements, such as dietary and cultural needs. The Government is encouraging schools to speak to parents about their school meals provision and act reasonably to ensure it best meets the needs and beliefs of their school community.
Schools must also provide access on their premises, at all times, to free drinking water. I would encourage schools to consider whether they are doing all they can to make free water visible and easily available.
In the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ food strategy, published in June 2022, the Government set out its commitment to conduct a review of the policy and delivery of the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS). The Department is working together with officials from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on the review. The scope of the programme and sustainability of produce will be factors for consideration.
Suppliers of fruit and vegetables to the SFVS are required to adhere to all elements of UK law. They are required to supply produce which meets Government fresh fruit and vegetable marketing standards, and the standards set for the Red Tractor food assurance scheme for UK sourced foods, or Globalgap, the international equivalent for fruit and vegetables sourced from outside the UK.
An assessment of relevant accreditation programmes such as Fairtrade is undertaken as part of the procurement process to source the fruit, vegetables and related services for the Scheme. The current supply frameworks will run until the end of July 2024, and the merits of using a range of potential accreditations, including Fairtrade, will be considered as part of the next procurement.
I welcome that the funds for the National School Breakfast (NSB) Programme and other successful programmes have come from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy. This demonstrates how these funds have been used, as was intended, to invest in improving children’s health and providing them with healthy food. The soft drinks industry levy has undoubtedly been a success, with the latest statistics showing sugar content of soft drinks dropping by 44 per cent. The sugar content in breakfast cereals, yoghurt and fromage frais has also dropped.
Schools are expected to act reasonably in their food provision and take into account the religious, cultural and special dietary requirements of their pupils. Schools should also consult with parents when amending their food provision and they should ensure that parents have access to information on the food that is provided. Schools may consider providing halal and non-halal food each day. They should also ensure that dishes are clearly labelled.
It is good to see continuing support for schools and children so that they are able to benefit from the national breakfast club programme, which is creating or improving breakfast clubs in up to 2,450 schools located in the most disadvantaged parts of the country.
Up to £38 million is being invested into the National School Breakfast Programme, using funds from Soft Drinks Industry Levy revenues. I understand that the Government is supporting approximately 280,000 children in some of the most deprived areas of England.
The School Food Standards say that schools should ask suppliers for nutritional information. Schools can make this information available for pupils and parents, and they should also provide information on the allergy ingredients of the food they serve.
I recognise that food labelling is particularly important for pupils who suffer with conditions such as diabetes. If your school has an external caterer, you may want to consider contacting the caterer for a detailed fact sheet about the ingredients and content of the food.
You may find documents such as University College Hospitals’ ‘Carbohydrate Counting in Schools’ factsheet useful, it offers information on carbohydrate counting as accurately as possible at school.
I welcome the Government’s recognition of the benefits of providing healthy meals to students and providing free meals to those that need them. As I understand it, local authorities are responsible for providing school meals which are funded centrally, rather than through a specific grant. Therefore, it is up to local authorities to determine the amount which is allocated for each school meal, based on the circumstances in their area. However, the Government is committed to ensuring that all schools have the necessary funds to provide help for those students that require it. The Government spends over £1 billion each year on free school meals, including through the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme and school breakfast clubs.
I very much welcome the provision of free milk for pupils under five years-old, as part of the School Milk Scheme and the Nursery Milk Scheme. I understand that some older children who attend an Ofsted-registered school are also eligible for subsidised milk and yoghurt in some circumstances, including secondary school students.
I am aware that although soya and rice milk products are not provided under the scheme, alternative milk options including lactose free, or lactose reduced milk should be available for children who are not able to have cows milk.
I understand that the Department for Education believes that headteachers, governors and their caterers are best placed to make decisions about their school food policies, including the provision of vegan meals. As such, the Department is encouraging schools to speak to parents about their school meals provision and act reasonably to ensure it best meets the needs and beliefs of their school community.