280 million pound package to transform the quality of school meals

Britain's Education Secretary Ruth Kelly today set down that schools should spend at least 50p per child on food ingredients as she unveiled a £280 million package to transform the quality of school meals.

From September and over the next three years, schools and local education authorities will be supported in transforming school meals with healthy food, prepared fresh on the premises by trained school cooks, which would follow tough minimum nutrition standards underpinned by Ofsted inspection. The following elements will deliver a step change in school meals:

  • £220 million new funding grants direct to schools and local education authorities to ensure they can transform school meals, including a minimum spend on ingredients of 50p per pupil per day for all primary schools, and 60p per pupil per day for all secondary schools, as well as providing increased training and working hours for school cooks;

  • £60 million from the Big Lottery Fund and the Department for Education and Skills to enable a new School Food Trust to give independent support and advice to schools and parents to improve the standard of school meals;

  • tough minimum nutrition standards developed by an expert panel to be rolled out to primary and secondary schools from September 2005, and becoming mandatory from September 2006; the panel has been asked to strongly consider the use of nutrient-based standards and whether any individual foodstuffs should be banned;

  • proposals to enable parents to work with schools and the School Food Trust to improve the quality of their child's school meal, with a dedicated 'toolkit' for parents to be published in May;

  • Ofsted to review the quality of school meals as part of regular school inspections from September, and to perform detailed inspections with nutritionists of the nutritional content of school food in a sample of schools in every local education authority.

From April, a new vocational qualification will be available for school caterers to help them promote healthy food, and ensure they are high status school cooks who are as integral to the whole-school team as teachers and classroom assistants. The Learning and Skills Council will also work with the School Food Trust to develop a ladder of qualifications to meet the skills needs of all kitchen staff, from the basics of hygiene and nutrition through to more specialist preparation and cooking.

New or upgraded school kitchen facilities where fresh produce can be prepared and served will be made a priority through the current school rebuilding and refurbishment programmes. The Government is investing £5.5bn in 2005-06 rising to £6.3bn in 2007-08 to improve secondary school buildings, and at least £1.8 billion to improve primary schools in 2007-08.

Ruth Kelly said:

"This £280 million package will make a real difference. Every school will now be able to spend a minimum of 50p per pupil on ingredients for school meals. This new investment will transform what is offered to children and teenagers in our schools so that high-quality healthy food is on every child's plate.

"But it is not just about money for ingredients, it is also about ensuring schools have the expertise available. To help schools make the change, the new School Food Trust will give independent support and advice to schools and parents to improve the standard of school meals.

"And it is not just about banning what is unhealthy, it is also about promoting what is healthy. Tough minimum nutrition standards coupled with continued work to promote good health to young people in schools will help them understand the importance of eating a balanced diet."

By July the Department for Education & Skills will publish more help for schools and local education authorities in drawing up catering contracts to source healthy school meals' services and healthy food in vending machines, tuck shops, or breakfast clubs.

The Department of Health also launched today the Food in Schools toolkit to support, guide and inspire schools in taking a 'whole-school' approach to healthy eating and drinking including vending machines, breakfast clubs and after school cookery clubs. Developed following pilots in over 300 schools, the toolkit will be fully integrated into the Healthy Schools Programme and supports the Healthy Living Blueprint.

Health Secretary John Reid said:

"We have already made clear we are determined to see fast progress in this whole area, and tackle the problems of children eating junk foods and unhealthy foods with firm measures, which is why I welcome today's announcement on school meals as part of the wider push to improve children's diets.

"The introduction of nutrition based standards for healthier school meals will help us deliver our aim in the White Paper to reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar in our children's food and to increase fruit and vegetables and other essential nutrients."

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