Being completely honest, there are a lot of people who’ve asked me over the last year whether the government’s school food review would come up with anything ‘new’. Was there a silver bullet that no one had ever thought of? Were there great ideas which hadn’t been tried? Was a ‘eureka!’ moment likely?
And while many of the themes and ideas will be familiar to everyone involved with school food, what is new is that this is a shot in the arm for the message that people like us champion every single day: great food in schools is important. Eight years on from Jamie’s School Dinners, maybe our country was in need of a prod to remember what great school food can do for children, and what has to be done to help schools produce it.
Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, with the support of an expert panel, have done a great job of underlining the things that work, where the effort needs to be focused – and by whom. Look back to Jamie’s original 2005 Feed Me Better manifesto and you’ll find some similar themes: the need to keep being creative with food to get more kids eating school food; the need to better train and support staff; the need for a long-term national commitment and funding. Read the 2005 School Meals Review Panel report and appendices – commissioned by the then government to set out the actions needed after Jamie’s campaign – and you’ll find recommendations around increasing take up, teaching children practical cooking, improving the quality of food, the need for good sources of information on how to do school food well and supporting staff with training and funding. Look at the things that organisations like the Children’s Food Campaign, Chefs Adopt a School, Food for Life Partnership, LACA, School Food Matters, the Children’s Food Trust and many others have been working on since then and you’ll be able to match many points. But perhaps others who are more removed from the day-to-day realities of school meals had assumed that just because we know what works, the job was done. Far from it. That’s why this review was important.
We always knew that government, caterers and schools would have to be in this for the long-haul. Whole-scale change takes time. Will we still be talking about Henry and John’s recommendations in another eight years? I sincerely hope so. I hope that in eight years time, we’ll be talking about how this latest national school food plan galvanised government – and politicians of all parties – to keep up a sustained commitment to good food in our schools. I hope we’ll be talking about how more head teachers across the country were inspired to take a lead on food in their school – not settling for something that’s less than their pupils deserve because it feels too hard a problem to tackle: there is lots of help out here for you. I hope that strong support nationally and locally – together with the funding announced today to help – will have meant that the great lunchtime experience already being delivered to many children becomes a great experience delivered to them all.
To all the nay-sayers who will question the value of this review: anything which reminds us all of why we need to get food right in our schools is ok by me. Now let’s all get on with the job.