Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Ofsted highlights measures that can encourage more pupils to eat school meals

The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) has today made a series of recommendations to help schools reverse the decline in the number of pupils eating school meals.

A new Ofsted report, Food in schools: encouraging healthier eating, found that the number of pupils eating school meals had fallen in 19 of 27 schools surveyed, reflecting findings from the Better Regulation Commission.

Inspectors found that reasons for the decline were complex but included a lack of consultation with parents and pupils about the new arrangements for healthy school meals, poor marketing of new menus and a lack of choice in what was offered.

Ofsted recommends that schools should monitor the take-up of school lunches and identify and eliminate the factors that are discouraging pupils from eating them. Schools should involve pupils closely in developing school menus and in exploring a wider range of food. Dining areas should be attractive and well organised as long queues and insufficient areas for socialising also put pupils off.

Schools should ensure that the cost and methods of paying for school meals do not discourage children from low income families or those entitled to free school meals and today's report highlights how cashless catering systems and other initiatives can make a difference. Inspectors found that high costs for low income families not eligible for free school meals were also a deterrent and in some cases pupils entitled to free school meals chose not to take them because the methods of paying for them singled them out.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills, Christine Gilbert, said:

"Schools that had the most impact in encouraging healthy choices were those which gave a priority to this as part of their day-to-day work. They encourage the involvement of pupils themselves in designing school menus, for example, and worked hard to make their families understand the importance of healthy schools."

Inspectors found that all 27 schools visited for the report were meeting the interim food standards introduced in September 2006 and that school meals were healthier.

In the eight schools in the survey where take-up had been maintained or improved, cooks had tried to reflect pupils' preferences and changed the set menu to reflect both their tastes and the food-based standards.

Pupils' involvement in making decisions about the types of food offered was important in determining whether or not they chose a school meal. Consultation tended to be lower in the secondary schools visited than in the primary schools, and this contributed to a higher proportion of pupils deciding against a school meal.

Schools had the most impact on encouraging healthy choices when close partnerships existed between senior managers, pupils and their families.

All the primary schools visited gave advice to parents on packed lunches but only three secondary schools did so. Where advice was provided, more pupils ate healthy lunches than before and pupils were able to explain how they were part of a balanced diet. The report recommends that schools work sensitively and closely with families to advise them on how to provide healthy packed lunches.

Ahead of the new standards introduced at the start of the September 2007 term, which apply to food, apart from school lunches that are also available, most schools visited had either removed or were awaiting removal of vending machines that had previously dispensed unhealthy confectionery.  The breakfast clubs and tuck shops visited were already providing a range of healthy foods.

The report found that all the schools visited had identified pupils who did not have breakfast at home and many had set up breakfast clubs to compensate. However, too many of the schools visited did not make the importance of breakfast clear to pupils and their families. Where it was known that pupils ate snacks on the way to school, staff did not challenge this alternative to breakfast sufficiently.

Notes For Editors

1. The report, Food in schools: encouraging healthier eating, is available on the Ofsted website, www.ofsted.gov.uk today.

2. The former Department for Education and Skills (DfES) announced a number of measures in March 2005 to improve food in schools. The work of the School Meals Review Panel led to new interim standards for food in schools, which came into force in September 2006. The 2006 standards intended to ensure that school lunches provide pupils with a healthy diet. From September 2007, the 2006 standards were updated to include new standards that apply to other food, as well as food provided at lunchtime.

3. From 1 April 2007 a new single inspectorate for children and learners came into being. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) has the responsibility for the inspection of adult learning and training - work formerly undertaken by the Adult Learning Inspectorate; the regulation and inspection of children's social care - work formerly undertaken by the Commission for Social Care Inspection; the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service - work formerly undertaken by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration; and the existing regulatory and inspection activities of Ofsted.

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