Why this summer doesn’t have to be cruel…

Let's Get Cooking's Minty Ice LolliesSummer term: the home stretch of the school year. While exam pressure hits melting point for pupils and teachers, school kitchen teams have their own tests to deal with during the next 12 weeks or so.

Summer brings unique challenges for school kitchens: better weather can often mean more children moving to packed lunches so they can sit outside and eat fast (the better to get back to hurtling around the playground), exam timetables and the anguish of last-minute cramming can mean older pupils aren’t in school over lunchtime or, when they are, they’re putting eating at the bottom of their to-do list.

So your lunchtime numbers can change. How much will free school lunches for under-sevens affect the summer season trends we’ve seen for so many years? It’ll be interesting to see. Jayne_GREATOREX

But if you’re catering for older children, how do you keep them coming to the canteen as the weather hots up? Here are my top tips:

  • Help them get outside. If you’ve got the opportunity to create an external dining area, go for it. If you’ve already got al fresco facilities, do as much as you can with them
  • Go with the children’s flow: we all gravitate towards cold, lighter food when the weather’s warm, so make the most of these options – make lots of noise about things like sandwiches, salads and pasta pots
  • Let them grab and go: meal deals which mimic the packed lunch style can often work really well over the summer. Push a summer special offer of a sandwich, drink, fruit and cake
  • Use summer events to market your food: your school’s sports day, prom or end of term concert can work just as brilliantly as linking in with Wimbledon or the end of the season for your local football team
  • Go to town on reminding pupils that when they eat better, they do better – when they’re fuelled up with healthy food, they’ll feel better able to concentrate in revision sessions and exams
  • Market your brain-boosting options as great for exam-sitters: fish dishes, bean salads and oaty flapjacks to keep them going through a long paper
  • If you offer a breakfast service, promote your early starter options to pupils who’ll be sitting exams. Tucking into scrambled eggs or beans and toast will set them up to do their best.

Don’t forget, at the moment there’s loads of support on offer with marketing school food – all funded by government. Whether you’re an infant school offering free meals to all pupils or a junior or secondary school looking for extra support to get more children opting for your canteen, we can help. Check out our free school meals for infants helpdesk and the support on offer for junior and secondary schools.

Jayne’s one of our school food specialists. Email Jayne

Over to you…

Linda   From my own days in school catering, I know how relentlessly busy and demanding the days are – and about the high standard school kitchen teams and midday supervisors expect of themselves to deliver great lunchtimes for children, day after day after day. I know – first hand – how people working in school food can sometimes feel like the ‘poor relation’ of the catering industry; if I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone describe their job in school food in almost apologetic terms over the years, I wouldn’t be short of a bob or two.

But step by step, this is changing – thank goodness. I’ve been privileged to sit on a School Food Plan group, headed by LACA , that’s working with staff from all over the school food sector as well as the industry sector skills council, People 1st, to draft the country’s first set of professional standards for the school food workforce. Employers are designing them with the group, agreeing on the skills, knowledge and behaviours that mark the best industry standard of performance for different roles in school food.

Professional standards exist for all sorts of professions but until now, not for school food. And it’s a big deal: in-house training, apprenticeships and qualifications for school kitchen roles will all support staff to meet those professional standards, individuals can use the standards to see how they’re doing against what they know is possible for their role, and most importantly the standards will be a wonderful way of showing off the massive talent which exists in school kitchens – the front line of helping children develop healthy habits for the future.

So the start of this summer term marks a milestone. We now want to know what you think of the draft professional standards employers have shaped up. What do you think of the content? How would you use the standards in your role, in your kitchen or catering operation? If you work in school food, don’t miss out on this chance to make these standards work for you and your colleagues.

One of the most important recommendations of the School Food Plan was about supporting the school food workforce. If we’re going to get lots more children choosing to use their school’s canteen, we have to look after the teams who’ll be making that happen. Because great school lunchtimes are only created when you’ve got a team of people with the skills, facilities and support they need to do their jobs well. Here’s to the next step on the road.

Linda’s our CEO. Follow Linda on Twitter

Councils champion school meals experience

Today we’re celebrating thirteen councils joining us on a mission to get more children eating school mealsKitchen1

Following the launch of the School Food Plan in 2013, we’re working with the local authorities* across the South West, South East and East Midlands to help schools encourage more pupils to opt for lunches in the canteen.

The scheme, which sits alongside the Government’s funding of free school meals for infants, is designed to help junior and secondary schools get more children choosing the school dining room at lunchtime.

Commissioned by the Department for Education, we’re giving specialist training to local authority and academy trust teams so they can help schools get more children opting for school meals, focusing on the small things which can make a big difference. We’re also offering these schools ready-made marketing programmes to get pupils excited about school meals, along with site visits and one-to-one support on operational issues.

Support is available in other regions from the Food For Life Partnership – led by the Soil Association – and the Design and Technology Association. As Ofsted announces that healthy eating will be part of school inspections from September 2015, all three organisations are urging schools not to miss out on a share of more than one million pounds worth of training, support and materials.

Linda Linda Cregan, our Chief Executive Officer, says: “Rightly, there’s been a heavy focus on supporting infant schools to make sure they were ready to deliver free school meals for all their pupils, but if we want that legacy to last throughout children’s school years, we have to make sure help gets to other schools, too. And with Ofsted’s inspection framework including such an emphasis on food from September this year, there’s an even bigger incentive for schools to get this right. That’s why we’re so delighted to welcome these local authorities on board and why we’re keen to talk to more local authorities and schools in these regions to make sure they’re getting a share of this invaluable support.”

Libby Grundy from the Food For Life Partnership said: “Improving school meals has been put on the plate of head teachers, caterers and school business managers in recent years and this support package is an ideal way they can access expert support. Improving school meals will in turn lead to improvements in attainment and behaviour which is great news for any school. I am delighted that Ofsted inspections will now include school food; schools need not be daunted by this and if staff at junior or secondary schools need a little extra support then the packages on offer across England can make all the difference, but time is of the essence so please register now.”

Louise Davies from the Design and Techology Association said: “Our programmes provide tailor made support for schools so that they are totally supported in making changes to school meals and learning about food choices. Every headteacher, governing body and food teacher needs to grab this opportunity for fully funded and proven solutions immediately.”

*We’re working with with Swindon, Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, West Berkshire, Bracknell Forest, Reading, Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead and Portsmouth local authorities in our Make School Meals Count project.

For more information on the support available across the country under the scheme, click here.

Five school food blogs we all need to remember from 2013

??????????????????????????????????????????????????The TV’s saturated with ‘review of the year’ shows, lists of ‘2013’s most embarrassing celebrity moments’ and special editions of every gameshow going right now. So I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon, and share my picks of the school food blogs I’ve loved this year:

  • This one from school food writer Siobhan O’Neill pulls out some wonderful themes about school meals in Japan – from which we could all learn a lot!
  • In February, our former Chief Executive, Judy Hargadon, wasn’t impressed with some school meals comments by Iceland boss, Malcolm Walker
  • We can’t let 2013 go by without mentioning the School Food Plan. Millions of words have been written about the themes of the plan, but this blog for Mumsnet by the plan’s co-author, John Vincent, summed things up beautifully
  • The announcement that all children in Reception and years 1 and 2 at school will get free school meals from September 2014 had steam coming off the keyboards of commentators on the left, right and centre – this debate on the Guardian’s blog is a great read
  • And this piece from John McDermott on the FT blog was another good one. We’re still waiting for the government’s proposals on how free school meals will work with Universal Credit, but a free lunch at school for all children living in poverty should be the starting point.

What were your favourite school foodie blogs of 2013? Drop your links below!

Jeremy Boardman heads up our schools team. Email Jeremy.

Hell’s kitchen?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????It never happens on Masterchef, does it? You never see John and Greg putting aspiring super-chefs to work in kitchens that are, frankly, too small for the job at hand. You don’t see them having to break off from chopping to negotiate with an oven which seems to choose when it will light first time based on the cycles of the moon. They might get a special challenge here and there, to cook in a tent in the middle of a field with a (very) temporary kitchen, but does that really compare to the day-to-day challenge of working in facilities which, for all sorts of reasons, aren’t really up to the job?

It’s an issue for many schools: kitchens (or equipment) which are knocking on a bit, meaning that some tasks take far longer than they need to, eating into your time to get creative. Kitchens which are too small, or poorly laid-out – meaning you’ve become an expert at constantly moving out of the way of passing colleagues while you prep, or you walk unnecessary miles each week. Cropped kitchen

And as ever, it all comes back to take up. Kitchen facilities which aren’t allowing you to make the most of your skills, which aren’t giving you the efficiency you need, aren’t going to help your school’s chances of boosting take up.

Of course, kitchens aren’t the be all and end all. It’s skilled people who make great school food happen (with that essential backing of a headteacher who really values food and its place in school life). But if your team doesn’t have the tools it needs; if you don’t have the kitchen that enables you to work your magic and, crucially, to keep growing your take up, how much more challenging does that School Food Plan vision of 80% take up feel?

We hear about kitchen facilities issues a lot from schools all over the country. That’s why, this year, we’re rating the state of the nation’s school kitchens. Backed by Myles Bremner from the School Food Plan and the National Association of School Business Management, we’re asking all schools to join the first national survey of school kitchens so that we can see just how many of you are facing these sorts of problems.

Do you think your school’s kitchen facilities will limit how much you can increase take up in the coming years? Are you trying to raise money to improve or replace your kitchen? Take our survey and help us get the first national picture of the nation’s kitchen facilities. You can also join the debate in our Learning Network forums and follow the campaign using #schoolkitchens on Twitter.

There is help out there, by the way – from low-cost tactics that will buy you time and a bit more space, to clever products which allow you to replace your kitchen without having to raise huge amounts of capital up front and inspiration on working with your local community to generate funds. Get in touch with us if you need help.

But the point here is this: you’re definitely not alone. This year, we want to find out just how many of you are soldiering on in kitchens that need a bit of tlc to help make the School Food Plan’s goals a reality.

Jeremy heads up our school support team. His blog was first published in Educatering magazine, October 2013. 

Free school meals are good, but healthy, well-served free school meals are even better (via IndyVoices)

Linda Putting the debate about universality aside for one moment (and there’s a lot of it today), if we’re going to offer free school meals for all under-eights, there’s a crucial point that isn’t getting much of a look-in. To make this work well; to make sure we actually reap all the benefits of what good food at school can do for children’s attainment and diet, the school meal experience has got to be a good one. If we want all families to take this up, and not simply stick with the same packed lunch every day, the lunchtime their school offers has to be one they want their kids to have…..

Read Linda’s full post on the Independent’s IndyVoices blog

Linda Cregan’s a former school caterer and our Chief Executive.

A watershed moment for school food?

Rob Rees, Children's Food Trust ChairmanBeing 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.