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LGA - 2,500 academies yet to sign up to healthy school meal standards

A loophole that is letting nearly 2,500 academies and free schools off the hook when it comes to signing up to healthy school meal standards needs to be closed by government in its forthcoming child obesity strategy, say council leaders.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils that have responsibility for public health, has calculated that more than one million youngsters are attending academies and free schools that opened between 2010 and 2014 but are yet to formally commit to the same standards followed by all council maintained schools, new academies, and academies that opened between 2008 and 2010.

This is despite those schools being asked by government to sign up more than a year ago when new voluntary rules were brought in. These were introduced to drive up standards in school meals, and ensure pupils eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet.

But having to follow them was optional for the 3,896 academies and free schools which opened between 2010 and 2014.

Rather than introducing "cumbersome" new legislation, the Department for Education wrote to 2010-14 academies in January last year asking them to voluntarily sign up. But as figures show, more than a year later, nearly two thirds – 2,476 – are yet to do so.

It means they are able to escape any restrictions on providing fried or pastry-based food or sugary drinks. Town halls say it is not right that there are rules for some, but not all.

They are also not required to ensure children get at least one portion of vegetables or salad each day as part of their school lunch. This is despite more than half of 2010-14 academies receiving funding from the Department for Education for infant free school meals.

The LGA says it is essential government uses its childhood obesity strategy, expected in the summer, to close the loophole in legislation to ensure that all academies and free schools have to formally commit to the standards followed by all other schools.

Latest figures show that three and a half million children are obese – one in five 10 and 11-year-olds and one in 10 four and five-year-olds.

Obesity in children can lead to a higher risk of major health problems such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

LGA Community Wellbeing spokeswoman, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said:

"It is deeply worrying that hundreds of academies and free schools are yet to commit to providing healthy school meals to children, more than a year since they were first asked to sign up to new school food standards by government.

"It's not right that we have rules for some but not all.

"The forthcoming childhood obesity strategy is a great opportunity for the Government to close this loophole in legislation, which will make all academies follow standards that demonstrate a nutritional safety net to parents, who can be assured that their children are eating healthy food at school, rather than meals that could be laden in high amounts of fat, salt or sugar.

"Councils are responsible for tackling childhood obesity and poor diet as part of our public health responsibilities, which is why we want academies and free schools that opened between 2010 and 2014 to formally agree to the school meal standards that are mandatory for every other school.

"It is also vital that our children eat well at school. Nutritional meals mean they are better able to concentrate inside the classroom, as well as learning the importance of healthy eating and avoiding any bad food habits."

Notes to editors

1. New school standards introduced in January 2015 

2. Of the 24,347 schools in England, 3,896 are Academies and Free Schools founded between September 2010 and June 2014. As of 9 March 2016, 1,420 of these Academies and Free Schools have signed up to follow the School Food Standards. This list includes schools that have achieved the Healthy Schools London Award, Food for Life School Award and schools whose caterers hold the Food for Life Catering Mark. These awards demonstrate compliance with the School Food Standards. The School Food Standards are mandatory for all maintained schools, and for academies and free schools established pre Sept 2010 and post June 2014.

http://www.schoolfoodplan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Academy-Free-School-sign-ups-09_03_16.pdf

3. Statutory standards for school food were introduced for maintained schools in 2007, and those academies established between September 2008 and September 2010 were required to adhere to the standards through a clause in their funding agreements. This was changed in September 2010 as part of a drive to reduce constraints on and increase autonomy for academies. However, all new academies and free schools from June 2014 are required to adhere to the food standards. Academies established between September 2010 and June 2014 are not contractually required to comply. The Department of Education said in its report on revised food standards, that r ather than introduce cumbersome new legislation to introduce a post-dated clause, academies are asked to make a voluntary commitment to comply with the regulations.

Revised standards for food in schools 

4. Letter to academies 2010-14 from government asking them to sign up to school food standards pledge 

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