If I had a pound for every time someone’s asked me the question in the last few months: “So, what’s going to be in the new School Food Plan then?”, I’d be retiring to the Bahamas. I’m sure most of you working in the school food sector might be joining me! But as we wait for the next chapter for school food in England to unfold, it got me thinking back over its history in recent decades…..
- The 80s. A time of huge change for school meals. Local authorities were no longer required to provide a school meal at all. Prices were to be decided locally, and nutritional standards for food in schools were abolished. Under Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), school meals services had to be put out to tender and a ‘bottom line’ culture began – less nutritious but more profitable fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate and sweets. Many kitchens closed and replaced by re-heat units or meals bussed in from elsewhere. Much cooking from scratch replaced by convenience food: the Turkey Twizzlers and smiley potato faces remembered not so fondly by many who were at school then. Cooks can only watch as skills are worn away in many kitchens, the focus switching from dicing to defrosting.
- The 90s: ‘Fair Funding’ provisions come into force, allowing each secondary school to decide for itself how to assign money to school meals. Primary and special schools are given the option to do the same. ‘Best Value’ replaces CCT, and decisions about school meals provision become ever more driven by finance.
- The noughties: growing concerns about what children are eating at school lead to minimum nutritional standards under the 2000 Education Regulations . The 2002 Education Act extends free school meals to more children in homes receiving Family Credit , but many parents still opt for packed lunches instead. Enter a certain pukka chef…. and the rest, as they say, is recent history (summarised a few months back in this blog from our former Chief Exec), thanks to the hard graft by cooks, catering companies, teachers and heads, local authorities and so many other people and organisations pushing for one very simple thing for every child at school: a decent meal every lunchtime.
So, what will the School Food Plan bring for the next decade? One thing’s for sure, the organisations working on it – including us here at the Trust – are focused on the most important point in all of this: let’s leave the school meals of previous decades back where they belong, and make sure they only keep getting better and better.
Jeremy heads up our support to schools. Email Jeremy.
Read more about our work as part of the School Food Plan Expert Panel