School meals target ‘set to fail’
The government looks likely to miss its target to increase the take-up of school meals by 10% in England by this autumn, the BBC has learned.Figures due to be published by the School Food Trust are expected to show the proportion of pupils eating school meals is roughly stable. The take-up of secondary school meals in Scotland has dropped by 10% in the last five years, recent figures show. In England, more primary school pupils have been begun choosing school meals. Former schools minister Jim Knight said in a parliamentary answer in 2007: “Increasing take-up of school lunches is a priority for this department and for the School Food Trust (SFT). “The SFT has a target to increase take-up of school lunches from a 2005-06 baseline by four percentage points by March 2008, and by 10 percentage points by autumn 2009.” Figures published in July 2008 from the SFT showed a modest rise among primary school pupils. In 2007-08 the proportion eating school dinners rose by 2.3% to 43.6% of pupils. CampaignHowever, it appears secondary school pupils are still more likely to be tempted by local shop food and shun healthy options. The proportion of secondary school pupils eating in the school canteen declined by 0.5% in the school year 2007-08. But this was a much smaller fall than the previous year, when it declined by 5%. In England, roughly 40% of pupils overall eat school meals. In Scotland, 39% of secondary school pupils now eat in school – but five years ago the figure was 49%. Again there has been a rise among primary pupils.. The last time school meal take-up increased in England was in 2004 – the year before TV chef Jamie Oliver highlighted the poor quality of some school dinners and began a campaign to improve them. New guidelines on healthy eating in schools were introduced by the Westminster government from September 2006 and standards for vending machines, breakfast clubs and tuck shops came into force a year later. Last year, strict nutrition content guidelines for primary schools were introduced, and they will be extended to secondary schools from this September.
School caterers have warned that choice will become a casualty of the new guidelines, as it is so difficult to create meals which adhere to the rules. The Liberal Democrat spokesman for Children, Schools and Families, David Laws, said: “Ministers must expect to fall woefully short of their own target to have the majority of children eating school dinners. “Since the government set a target that there would be around 700,000 more children having school meals, the reality is that the take-up has actually fallen. “The government needs to urgently address the big weaknesses in its plan – over-prescriptive nutrient standards which schools are struggling to deliver, the lack of time and facilities for sitting down to have lunch, and high prices which put off many parents. “