Schools duck 'moral duty' to dish up healthy meals

14 Jan 2013 12:49 PM

Academies and free schools are failing in their ‘moral duty' to ensure children are getting healthy school meals, local government leaders are warning.


The Local Government Association is concerned that more than one million children attending independently run free schools or academies could be eating poor quality meals that don't meet legal food standards because of a worrying exemption in legislation.


Unlike council maintained schools, academies and free schools can opt out of the national food standards that stop canteens dishing up turkey twizzlers or installing vending machines full of crisps, chocolate and sugary drinks.


The LGA is now urging government to introduce one single food standard applicable to all schools to ensure every child has the best opportunity to receive a nutritious school lunch.


It comes as councils across the country are gearing up to take on a greater public health role from April, which will include responsibilities such as tackling childhood obesity and delivering the National Child Measurement Service.


This will give local authorities an even greater role in ensuring the health and fitness of our children. One of the key factors of this will be giving children a good and healthy school lunch while also teaching them about the importance of good food.


Councillor David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:


"With councils taking up the challenge of tackling obesity and poor diet as part of their new public health responsibilities, the last thing we need is to see junk food back on the menu in our local schools. This is of particular concern for children having free school meals where school lunch is often their main meal of the day.


"We know parents want school lunches that are healthy and nutritious, whatever type of school their child attends. School autonomy is supposed to drive up standards but in the case of school meals we now have a two-tier system where one type of school can effectively exempt pupils from healthy choices and instead sell fatty and sugary foods. This threatens to seriously impact on the health and educational attainment of our children.


"As champions for parents and children, councils with new public health responsibilities will want to hold all schools to account if they are ducking their moral duty to give students the best chance of living a happy and healthy life.


"History shows us that voluntary guidelines alone do not work to drive up standards. We now need government to do its part by introducing an acceptable food standard that will allow councils to hold all schools to account for the nutritional quality of food they serve their pupils."


According to research by the Children's Food Trust, nine in ten academies are selling children junk food such as crisps, chocolate and cereal bars that are banned in maintained schools to protect pupil's health.


One in six schools reported selling confectionery, one in four sold crisps and savoury snacks, more than half sold cereal bars - often as high in sugar as confectionery - and more than three-quarters sold soft drinks.


The same study showed that academies can make between £3,000 and £15,000 a year from selling junk food to their pupils.


Currently more than 50 per cent of secondary schools in England are either academies or in the process of becoming academies and there is a growing number of primary schools also converting. In addition, a further 102 new free schools have been approved to open in 2013 and beyond.


More than 1,250,000 pupils now attend academies, which means around one in seven pupils in state schools now attends an academy school. This increases to one in three pupils in state secondaries.


The law on nutritional standards was tightened in England for local authority primary schools in 2008 and secondaries in 2009.


Author: LGA Media Office
Contact: LGA Media Office, Telephone: 020 7664 3333


The School Food Regulations (2007) are mandatory, and all local authority maintained primary, secondary and special schools in England are legally obliged to comply.


Children's Food Trust Impact Report 2012 (on the Children's Food Trust website)


Draft guidelines by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence on the prevention and management of obesity recommend that schools consider the implication of all school policies on the ability of children and young people to maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthier diet and be physically active, in line with existing guidance. This includes policies relating to catering provision, including vending and the food children bring into school.


Nutritional Standards for School Lunches and Other School Food (on the Department for Education website)


The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) is an annual programme to measure the height and weight of all children in Reception and Year 6. The information is used to help the NHS and local authorities plan and provide better health services for children.


The LGA represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.