Providing healthier choices within school can be achieved through breakfast clubs, healthy tuck shops, school meals and packed lunches. There are standards in place throughout the UK which are based on both the types of food and drinks that pupils should be offered at school (food-based) and the proportion of nutrients that pupils should be provided by food provided at school (nutrient-based).
Whilst standards differ throughout the UK, they all seek to improve school food provision within schools. They also include standards for healthier drinks; ensuring that free fresh drinking water is provided at all times, and restricting drinks that should be consumed less frequently, for example by limiting serving size and added sugars. Policy in the UK also states that crisps, chocolate or sweets cannot be offered within school meals or vending machines. Whilst these standards are mandatory for most schools and academies throughout the school day, they do not apply to packed lunches brought into schools by pupils. Children whose parents receive certain welfare payments are eligible for free school meals in the UK. There are also additional separate provisions in the four nations for eligibility to free school meals.
School meal regulations
School Food Standards were launched by the Department for Education as part of the School Food Plan. From January 2015, these standards became mandatory for food provided throughout the school day, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops, after school clubs and vending machines, in all maintained schools, free schools, and academies founded before 2010 and after 2014. Academies founded in between this period are encouraged to sign up to the standards voluntarily. The School Food Standards set requirements for all food and drink provided in schools. They aim to make sure food provided to pupils is nutritious and of high quality. Compliance with the School Food Standards is a legal requirement for the majority of schools, academies and free schools, including all maintained schools. Those schools for which it is not mandatory are expected to comply voluntarily. For further information on the school food plan, see resources below.
Although it is the responsibility of the governing body to ensure that the school meets its statutory obligations from September 2015, under a new Common Inspection Framework, Ofsted inspections will make judgement on healthy eating throughout the school, in classrooms through learning, as well as in the provision of school food.
Since September 2014, legislation states all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2 in state-funded schools in England must be offered a free school meal under the Universal Infant Free School Meal scheme. For more information, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-infant-free-school-meals-uifsm-2021-to-2022/universal-infant-free-school-meals-uifsm-conditions-of-grant-2021-to-2022
School Food Standards in England are currently under review (January 2022). However, further information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/standards-for-school-food-in-england/school-food-in-england
The following documents were originally on the School Food Plan website (closed end of March 2019) and have been reproduced and provided under the Open Government Licence. Terms can be found at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence
Childhood obesity plan
In 2016, the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan outlined a number of policies to help create a more supportive environment for young people to make healthier choices. These included the soft drinks industry levy (which began in April 2018) and the Sugar Reduction Strategy, to reduce the sugar content of products contributing most sugar to children’s diets by 20% by 2020 (launched in 2017). The release of chapter 2 of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan included the pledge to update to the School Food Standards to have a larger focus on reducing sugar consumption.
More information about what the government is doing to help tackle obesity can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tackling-obesity-government-strategy/tackling-obesity-empowering-adults-and-children-to-live-healthier-lives
In 2019 a healthy rating scheme for schools, to ensure that schools have a framework for self-evaluation for promoting healthy eating (and physical activity) during the school day, was introduced. More information can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/906875/Healthy_schools_rating_scheme.pdf
There has also been the introduction of universal infant free school meals, the introduction of cooking and nutrition on the curriculum for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 and mandatory school food standards. The Government also delivers the Healthy Food Schemes - Healthy Start, School Fruit and Vegetables, National School Milk Subsidy, and Nursery Milk schemes.
Part 2 of the National Food Strategy, led by Henry Dimbleby, and published in July 2021, contains recommendations to address the major issues facing the food system: climate change, biodiversity loss, land use, diet-related disease, health inequality, food security and trade. The report takes an in-depth look at our food systems, how these are currently harming both health and the environment and makes a number of recommendations on how this situation could be tackled. These recommendations will be considered by Government, who will decide how to take them forward.
The report covered 'food' education in Recommendation 3, including:
- Introduce sensory education for early years
- Reinstate A-Level
- Review other qualifications - to ensure good progression from GCSE into higher education and future careers
3. Inspection - Ofsted undertaking a review of food and nutrition in schools
4. Funding - paying for ingredients that pupils use
5. Recruitment - a recruitment drive for new food and nutrition teachers in our secondary schools.
The nutritional standards for school lunches 2007 Healthy Food for Healthy Outcomes, and the Nutritional standards for other food and drink in schools 2008 remain up to date. The nutritional standards for school lunches and nutritional standards for other food and drinks in school are currently being revised and it is hoped that this will be approved and implemented within 2022.
The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) previously monitored compliance to the nutritional standards, however due to a lack of funding, this is no longer the case. Compliance is therefore monitored, with the Education Authority, via catering supervisors, catering managers, and ultimately the Regional Food in Schools Coordinator. The Regional Food in Schools Coordinator acts as an expert advisor to the Department of Education on school food and nutrition.
Breakfast clubs in Northern Ireland are covered by the nutritional standards for other food and drinks in schools. The extended schools programme is a route for funding for schools to deliver a breakfast club, however criteria is strict and funding is limited. Many schools may manage and deliver their own breakfast club without this funding.
Guidance on the provision of healthy breakfast clubs can be found here - http://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/Healthier%20Breakfast%20clubs%2009_10.pdf
Additionally, guidance on the management and provision of special diets within schools in Northern Ireland is now available: https://www.eani.org.uk/parents/school-meals/dietary-requirements
In July 2018, A healthy future: Scotland's diet and healthy weight delivery plan was published which sets out a vision of a Scotland where everyone eats well, and all have a healthy weight.
Nutritional standards for school food in Scotland have recently been updated and the new Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020, which took effect on 8 April 2021, are aligned more closely to the Scottish Dietary Goals and are centred around four key themes to make school meals even healthier.
The new Regulations will increase access to fruit and vegetables, ensuring that children and young people can access their 'five-a-day' at school; reduce the amount of sugar that can be accessed in school; bring provision of red and red processed meat in line with the Scottish Dietary Goals; and change the way food and drink is offered in secondary schools to better meet the needs of young people.
Health and Nutrition Inspectors (HNIs) are permanent staff members of Education Scotland. They are employed to monitor the fulfilment of statutory duties with the schools Health Promotion and Nutrition Act 2007 for all schools to be health-promoting and comply with nutritional regulations. For more information, visit: Health and Nutrition Inspections
The Healthy eating in maintained schools: statutory guidance (2014) provides guidance for local authorities and governing bodies on how to promote healthy eating in maintained schools. For further information visit: https://gov.wales/healthy-eating-maintained-schools-statutory-guidance
Governing bodies are required to provide information regarding their actions taken to promote healthy eating and drinking to pupils in their annual reports. Estyn, the education and training inspectorate in Wales, then reports the actions taken by schools to the Welsh Ministers.
There is the intention in Wales to offer Free School Meals to all primary aged pupils starting in September 2022 with the youngest pupils in primary receiving free school meals. The roll-out would be continued in September 2023 so that all pupils in primary schools can benefit from a free school meal.
Wales also has the highest proportion of schools running breakfast clubs in the UK, with the highest proportion of these clubs government funded.
Further information about food and drink in schools in Wales can be found here: https://gov.wales/food-drink-schools
Children in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are eligible for school milk through the School Milk Subsidy Scheme. Claims can be made by schools, local authorities, suppliers or organisations set up for this purpose. In England and Wales the School Milk Subsidy Scheme is administered by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
In England and Wales all pre-school children who are under 5 and in day care are eligible for free milk. This is organised by Nursery Milk Reimbursement Unit on behalf of the Department of Health. From 1 August 2021 Scottish settings were no longer able to submit new claims to the Nursery Milk Reimbursement Unit but could instead take part in the new Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme.
More information on eligibility for the School Milk Subsidy Scheme can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/eligibility-for-the-school-milk-subsidy-scheme-milk-consumed-from-1-january-2021
Pupils regularly attending Ofsted-registered pre-school, nursery, primary or secondary school are eligible for subsidised milk. Pupils regularly attending Ofsted-registered primary or secondary school are also eligible for subsidised milk products and yogurt. Additionally, in Wales, children in Key Stage 1 are eligible for free milk, funded by the Welsh Assembly government.
Milk is also available to pupils in primary, special and secondary schools at a subsidised cost in Northern Ireland, through the School Milk Subsidy Scheme. However in NI this is administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Further information can be found here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/school-milk-subsidy-scheme
The Day Care Foods Scheme in Northern Ireland enables children under five to receive, free of charge, 189 ml (one third of a pint) of milk each day they attend approved day care facilities for two hours or more. Babies aged under one may instead receive dried baby milk made up to 189 ml (one third of a pint). For more information, visit: https://hscbusiness.hscni.net/services/1811.htm
Reviewed and updated 28/01/2022
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