They say what gets measured gets done. A pretty depressing view of the world, but often an accurate one. And in the world of school food, it’s fair to say it’s been a mixed bag when it comes to measuring, over the decades. That’s why Ofsted’s move to make food a real focus in the new Common Inspection Framework is such a very, very welcome one.
It wasn’t so long ago that the requirement of schools was little more than a self-assessment tick box to say they were meeting national school food standards. As of September this year, it’s a whole new ballgame. As part of their new framework for inspection, HMIs will consider how schools are helping children eat well. They’ll visit the canteen to see the atmosphere and culture in the dining room and how this affects pupils’ behaviour. They plan to talk to school leaders about how they help children develop their knowledge of good diet – essentially, how they’re putting the building blocks in place to give children a great start with food.
And if the aim of inspection is to make sure our schools are doing the best job for our children; that every child is getting the school experience they deserve, then we really can’t leave out lunchtime. Because – as our research has shown – how children feel about lunchtime often defines how they feel about their entire time at school.
The bit of the day when they get to refuel and relax is often far more memorable to a pupil than double maths. The trick is to make it memorable for all the right reasons, and that it’s delivering all the right things to make sure they’ve got the energy and concentration they need for double maths. With so many competing demands on your time and budget, it’s easy to put school food to the back of the queue. But time into school food equals reward out for children’s behaviour and attainment. It isn’t time wasted to spend a bit of time each month working on making lunchtimes great; by making lunchtimes great you’re helping create the conditions for kids to thrive in class. Chat to schools putting in effort and energy to make lunchtime an important part of the school day, and to make school cooks key people in the school community, and you’ll get an idea of how good food culture can make a school feel whole. And that’s before you get to the fact that being able to eat well is a life skill that we need to teach our kids: fail, and we’re consigning another generation to health conditions linked with obesity and malnutrition.
Most of the schools I talk to will have plenty of great things to tell and show their inspection team when it comes to looking at their approach to food and lunchtimes. Will you? Now’s the time to get ready for this change, and there’s lots of help out there if you need it.
Let’s make good school food something we’re proud to show off in our schools, not something that’s a chore to be measured on.
Jeremy leads our school support team. Whatever your issue, they’re here to help with all aspects of improving school food. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an infant, junior, secondary, special school or academy: if you’re struggling, we can help. Here are just a few of the ways we can support you:
- Get help with delivering free meals to all infants
- Get help with getting more pupils eating school meals
- Get help with developing your school food service – contracts, specifications and much, much more