Robert Smith, Robat Powell, Jane Nicholas
01 March 2006
The content of school meals is an issue which has received increased attention in recent years, not least due to a number of high-profile media campaigns highlighting the issue. In 2005 the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) commissioned NFER to gather evidence on local authority (LA) and school approaches to nutrition in schools in order to inform the work of the WLGA Schools Food Task and Finish Group.
- The research found that take-up of food was affected by a number of factors including quality and choice. Secondary schools in particular were aware of the competition from other sources and this could influence what they offered. Peer and home influences were important factors affecting secondary school pupil choice.
- LAs used different criteria for purchasing food with different weightings for quality and cost, which were sometimes related to the nature of the food. LAs had different approaches to purchasing from local suppliers and European Union (EU) procurement rules were important considerations for them.
- LAs reported difficulties in making the school meals service cover its costs and indicated that fluctuations in take-up often affected the service’s viability.
- Several LAs warned that there was a need to overcome what they perceived as long-term under-investment in the school meals service. Some also maintained that the culture brought about by competitive tendering had done little to enhance the quality of the service they were able to provide.
- The research found greatest satisfaction with the service in schools where food was cooked on-site. However, some cooking staff felt that they had limited opportunities to use their skills to the full and there were concerns about their terms and conditions.
- There was a need to ensure that pupils enjoyed opportunities to eat in an appropriate ambience. In particular, it was important that they were not pressured into eating too quickly. Introducing staggered lunch hours was seen as one way of addressing this issue.
- The need to develop whole-school approaches to promoting awareness of food and nutrition was recognised by all stakeholders. However, few such initiatives currently include kitchen and supervisory staff alongside teachers. The potential of developing a more integrated approach was seen as something which could be developed in future.
- There was a general desire to develop and encourage the consumption of more healthy items by pupils through a variety of means, such as counter choice, education of pupils and their parents, the training of staff and pricing policy.