27 May 2019, Katy Morton
The long-awaited ‘healthy schools rating scheme’ for primary schools is to launch this year, the Department for Education has confirmed.
Speaking at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum’s seminar on childhood obesity earlier this month, the assistant director of the Healthy Pupils Unit at the DfE, Andrew Hudson, revealed the rating scheme – which was originally slated to be rolled out in primary schools in September 2017 – will come into effect this year.
The voluntary scheme, which was announced in the Government’s child obesity plan, is to help primary schools recognise and encourage their contribution to preventing obesity by helping children to eat better and move more.
The scheme will be taken into account during Ofsted inspections. Once in operation, it will be referred to in the School inspection handbook.
Making the announcement at the conference, Mr Hudson said, ‘The healthy schools rating scheme will let schools self-assess how they are doing in terms of things like healthy eating, the school food standards and children being physically active. It will give them a rating as to how well they are doing, which they can share with parents and their community.
‘The scheme will signpost schools to resources to help them improve further.’
Mr Hudson said the scheme will also provide the DfE with useful information about how schools are performing in the areas of healthy eating and physical activity.
Meanwhile, delegates at the Westminster Forum conference raised concern, during a question and answer panel session, over what they said was Ofsted’s lack of attention to healthy eating during the inspection process, with many claiming that the organisation was not doing enough to prevent childhood obesity.
Edna Kissman, communication strategist at The Wonder of Me – a social enterprise concerned with challenging childhood obesity – said Ofsted inspectors had told her that nutrition and health feature at number 48 out of the 49 factors they score schools against.
Meanwhile, Stephanie Wood, founder and chief executive of School Food Matters, asked how Ofsted could be persuaded that schools do have a role to play in tackling obesity. She argued that while there is ‘no silver bullet’, food education plays a part.
One head teacher, Richard Slade of Plumcroft Primary School in Greenwich, said they had tried lobbying Ofsted about focusing more on physical activity and healthy eating.
He explained, ‘It is all very well having enthusiastic heads at school level, but what we need is systematic change, and that is where Ofsted has a place. You have to move beyond head teacher enthusiasm.
‘If Ofsted is not looking, sadly a lot of head teachers won’t be doing and that’s where you have to create a focus.
‘We have tried lobbying Ofsted, but from [chief inspector] Amanda Spielman’s comments, schools are specifically excluded as places where you can have an influence [on child obesity], and that seems a miss.’
He went on to call for an expansion of the child measurement programme past measuring children at Reception and Year 6, which he said was ‘not enough’. His school has partnered with the local NHS Trust to weigh and measure pupils every year so they can record which are overweight.
Mr Hudson said he would feed back delegates’ comments to the DfE. However, he said he believed Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework includes a reference to healthy living.
The new Schools inspection handbook, which comes into force in September, states under ‘Personal Development’ that schools should be ‘developing pupils’ understanding of how to keep physically healthy, eat healthily and maintain an active lifestyle, including giving ample opportunities for pupils to be active during the school day and through extra-curricular activities’.
Charlton Manor Primary School's teaching kitchen: head Timothy Baker presented at the Westminster seminar
Changing the diets of low-income families
Also presenting at the conference was Dr Jonathan James, senior lecturer at the Department of Economics at the University of Bath, who spoke about his research with the University of Edinburgh looking at whether the dietary habits of children and adults can be influenced.
In the study, which involved 285 low-income families from Colchester in Essex and Edinburgh with children aged two to six, they were either given healthy meal kits, consisting of recipes and ingredients, for three months (known as the ‘meal treatment’), told to reduce their snacking, or told to continue with their normal eating (the control group).
Prior to the study, all the adults and children were eating too much saturated fat and sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables.
For the meal treatment, the cost of meals met the average weekly budget of low-income families in the UK to make it possible for them to continue to buy the ingredients after the study ended.
Under the snacking intervention, adults were told to cut out snacking for six days a week, while children could have two snacks a day at regular times.
Dr James said the reason for giving adults a day off each week from the snacking intervention was because following it for seven days would be too strict. He referred to a tradition in Sweden called Lördagsgodis, ‘Saturday’s candies’, a treat day when children can eat sweets and go to candy stores.
Researchers measured outcomes after three months, one year, two years and three years after the study started. They found that children on the meal treatment decreased their body mass index (BMI) compared with their peers who continued their normal eating patterns.
Children on the meal treatment had their BMI distribution fall by five to six percentage points and they ‘significantly’ increased their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.
There were similar results for the snack intervention group; however, the benefits for these families faded over time, the researchers said.
In this group, children ‘significantly’ decreased their consumption of high-calorie snacks such as pretzels, cakes and pastries, and energy and breakfast bars.
After the study ended, the children in this group continued to adopt a regular diet and eat healthily, but there was no evidence of a similar change in their parents.
Dr James told Nursery World that the researchers suspect one reason themeal treatment was more successful in changing behaviour is that it was more invasive than the snack intervention.
‘The meal treatment broke down all the barriers to healthy eating by taking away the cost and time of planning meals and providing families with knowledge,’ he explained.