The new set of standards, launched by education secretary Michael Gove today, apply to all maintained schools, and for the first time new academies and free schools.
Academies and free schools that sign funding agreements from June 2014 will be required to adhere to the food standards. However, the new standards will continue to be voluntary for those free schools and academies set up between September 2010 and June 2014.
The Children’s Food Campaign and the Local Government Association (LGA), which have campaigned for food standards to be made mandatory for academies and free schools, said the move was a positive one but raised concerns over the 3,000 plus existing academies that will continue not to have to follow the standards.
Designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious meals, the revised standards replace those introduced between 2006 and 2009, which required schools to use a special computer programme to analyse the nutritional content of every menu.
The new rules place greater limits on foods high in salt, and restrictions on foods that include pastry. There is also a greater emphasis on wholegrain carbohydrates, requiring schools to provide one or more starchy wholegrain once a week.
For the first time, the standards include guidance about portion sizes for primary and secondary children.
However, no amendments have been made to how much fried, batter-coated or breadcrumb-coated food that schools should provide each week, which continues to be no more than two portions in a week.
In a change to the previous standards, the new rules state that one or more vegetables must be provided as an accompaniment to a main meal. Schools will also have to provide at least three different vegetables and three different fruits each week.
Other amendments include a requirement for schools to make milk available during the main school day to increase the number of children drinking milk, and a cap on fruit juice portions to 150ml to control the amount of sugar children consume.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said, ‘These new food standards will ensure all children are able to eat healthy, nutritious meals at school.
‘We now have a clear and concise set of food standards which are easier for cooks to follow and less expensive to enforce. Crucially we have achieved this without any compromise on quality or nutrition.
‘There has been a great deal of progress in providing healthy school meals in recent years and these new standards will help deliver further improvements.’
Dr Patricia Mucavele, head of nutrition at the Children’s Food Trust, which piloted the new standards, said, ‘We support all steps that help more children eat better and therefore do better, so we were pleased to be involved in the development and testing of these new standards.
‘The standards continue to restrict foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and the supporting practical guidance gives more advice about portion sizes and how to choose foods lower in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt as well as how to interpret food labels.
‘We tested the new standards with the people who would be using them - school caterers and cooks. They told us the new standards were easier and more intuitive to use to plan interesting and creative menus, which has got to be great news for children and school food.
‘These new standards will be mandatory from January and will apply to all new academies and free schools, which is a step in the right direction. We’re now looking forward to seeing all schools in England using them, helping to ensure every child benefits.’
A spokesperson for the Children’s Food Campaign said, ‘There is much to celebrate within the revised standards. However, they will only ever be as good as their implementation and monitoring. We await the Department for Education’s publication of plans for how the new standards will be monitored.
'The department has still not closed the legal loophole which means that the standards are not compulsory for the over 3,000 existing academies. In lieu of a change in the legislation, which we hope political parties will advocate in their manifestos, the DfE should be increasing its efforts to encourage academies to voluntarily sign up.
‘We will continue to work with the school Food Plan and others to champion standards across all schools.’
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said, 'While the NUT welcomes the Government’s recognition that all schools should be covered by the same set of nutritional standards, it is a missed opportunity that the standards will be legally enforceable only in those academies and free schools opening from this month.
'This will mean that over half of state funded secondary schools and over ten per cent of primaries in England will only be required to sign up to the standards on a voluntary basis. Parents of children in these schools will rightly be unhappy that the Government is failing to deliver the same guarantee of minimum nutritional food standards for all school.
'The NUT believes that expecting some schools to sign up voluntarily while others are required to abide by the standards on a compulsory basis fundamentally undermines the principle of having universal food standards. This will significantly weaken the message that all schools should provide a healthy and balanced diet to all children.'