The next steps were taken today in the Government's transformation of school meals as a new School Meals Review Panel started work to develop tough minimum nutrition standards for primary and secondary schools.
Meeting for the first time today, the School Meals Review Panel includes dieticians and nutritionists; headteachers, governors and support staff; catering and industry professionals; and is chaired by the former Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency Suzi Leather. Observers from key Government departments and the Scottish Executive will also attend.
The Panel will advise on a major revision of current school meals standards aimed at delivering a reduction in pupils' consumption of fat, salt and sugar; and an increase in the consumption of fruit, vegetables and other foods containing essential nutrients, specifically to:
- recommend what form nutritional standards for schools should take in the future;
- strongly consider the introduction of nutrient-based nutritional standards, using the Caroline Walker Trust guidelines as a starting point; and in doing so to bear in mind issues of cost and implementation;
- advise whether there are grounds for restricting choice; or restricting or eliminating certain types of food or food ingredients from school meals; and recommend whether certain foodstuffs should be restricted or banned;
- advise on the costs and benefits of specifying proportions of fresh/unprocessed food; and in introducing hot food in all schools.
The panel has been asked to develop draft minimum standards to roll out to schools this Autumn, with the final version of the standards becoming mandatory from September 2006. It is anticipated that the Panel will analyse changes made to school meals through the Hungry for Success programme in Scotland, and other initiatives pioneered in schools and local education authorities in England.
An interim School Food Trust was also announced today. Comprising Suzi Leather as interim Chair, supported by chef and school food consultant Rob Rees and headteacher Chris Dean, the interim Trust will now work to develop the full Trust to become operational in the late summer. The School Food Trust will draw together representatives from the food industry, caterers, nutritionists, food interest groups, schools and parents to give independent and practical support, advice and encouragement to Local Authorities, schools and parents to improve the standard of school meals; and work with key agencies to develop a ladder of qualifications for kitchen staff.
Welcoming the School Meals Review Panel, Schools Minister Jacqui Smith said:
"We are committed to transforming the food that is offered to pupils in our schools. Tough minimum nutrition standards developed by experts will support our significant investment to guarantee a minimum spend on ingredients, so that high-quality healthy food is on every child's plate. The new School Food Trust will give schools practical support to ensure that their additional resources are spent to best effect, and help parents ensure that their child has a healthy diet in school."
Suzi Leather said:
"No one should live a shorter or unhealthier life because they ate school food. No child should disrupt their and others' learning because they are hungry and cannot concentrate. No child should leave school knowing only how to open a packet or tin. No child should be bamboozled into eating a diet which harms them. Standards for school food should be the best we can do, not the most we can get away with."