Help for schools to encourage more children to eat school lunches

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A new advice service will offer support for schools to encourage take-up of free school meals.

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All children in England in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 will be able to eat a free school lunch from September

As part of the Government’s school food plan, every school in England will be required to provide free lunches for all children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 from September.

 A package of measures to support schools in England to deliver free school meals has been launched by the Children’s Food Trust and the Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA).

The Universal Infant Free School Meals advice service will provide advice and support for:

  • schools that currently have low levels of school meal take-up;
  • provide only packed lunches;
  • have in-house catering and are therefore unlikely to receive support from a ‘parent’ organisation such as a local authority or catering organisation;
  • are small and therefore struggle to make the school meal service break even;
  • are very large, and known to have capacity issues;
  • and / or prepare and transport school meals to other schools(known as ‘production kitchens’), some of which are in secondary schools.

All infant and primary schools, local authorities and school caterers will be able to access support online, including a question and answer service and an open forum for discussion, or contact an advice line by phone or email.

Schools that require further help will also be offered options including collaboration with other schools, further telephone advice or face to face visits from specialist professional advisers.

There will also be support provided for any state school, academy, free school, pupil referral unit or special school with low take up of free school meals.

This will include a series of ‘train the trainer’ courses, giving local authority or academy trust staff the skills to deliver the Children’s Food Trust’s ‘Small Step Improvement’ programme to eligible schools in their area. This programme has already seen more than 250 participating schools in England increase their take-up by an average of 8 per cent.

Junior schools will receive the ‘Food Dudes Dining Experience’, a social enterprise programme promoting healthy eating based on behaviour change methods, and secondary schools will receive marketing training from Elygra Marketing Services to ensure their menus and dining facilities appeal to the young people using them.

This support will help just under half of the 2,000 schools in England that currently have low take-up rates of free school meals.

The plans, based on the recommendations made by Leon restaurant founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, include £11.8 million to help schools prepare for the change.

Schools Minister David Laws said, ‘With six months to go, we want to support and encourage all schools to step up their preparations and these extra measures will support them in doing so.

‘Parents presently spend around £400 for lunches for each child every year and we want to do all we can to help ease the pressure on household budgets - putting money back in families’ pockets.’

Linda Cregan, chief executive of the Children’s Food Trust, said, ‘We know how important a healthy school meal is to help children grow and learn. This valuable investment from Government will allow us and our delivery partners to provide essential support to schools.  

‘By teaming up with LACA and our other partners this is the first time all the leading names in school catering and nutrition have joined forces to provide the best possible support to schools. I’m confident we have the right team to help schools, whatever issues they are facing with their school meal service.’

Schools can find more information at www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/schoolfoodplan email info@childrensfoodtrust.org.uk or call the advice line at 0800 680 0080.