Unlike maintained schools, academies and free schools can opt out of the national food standards, which the LGA says stop canteens serving turkey twizzlers or installing vending machine full of crisps, chocolate and sugary drinks.
Research by the Children’s Food Trust last year revealed that nine in ten academies are selling children junk food such as crisps, chocolate and cereal bars that are banned in maintained schools.
The LGA is now urging Government to introduce one single food standard applicable to all schools to ensure every child receives a nutritious school lunch.
Their call comes as councils across the country gear up to take on a greater public health role from April, which will include responsibilities such as tackling childhood obesity and delivering the National Child Measurement Service.
Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said, ‘With councils taking up the challenge of tackling obesity and poor diet as part of their new public health responsibilities, the last thing we need is to see junk food back on the menu in our local schools. This is of particular concern for children having free school meals where school lunch is often their main meal of the day.
‘School autonomy is supposed to drive up standards but in the case of school meals we now have a two-tier system where one type of school can effectively exempt pupils from healthy choices and instead sell fatty and sugary foods. This threatens to seriously impact on the health and educational attainment of our children.’
He added, ‘History shows us that voluntary guidelines alone do not work to drive up standards. We now need Government to do its part by introducing an acceptable food standard that will allow councils to hold all schools to account for the nutritional quality of food they serve their pupils.’
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, ‘ATL is delighted that the Local Government Association is taking its new duties regarding public health seriously. Teachers know all too well that hunger and poor diet effect children’s ability to learn, concentrate and behave, and this is something that was highlighted in ATL’s recent joint survey with the Children’s Society.’