The Government has revealed it has no intention of introducing nutritional standards in academies and free schools, despite pressure from local authority caterers.
Sandra Russell, chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA), told the LACA conference she had received a letter from Sarah Teather (pictured), minister of state for children and families, in response to her appeal in May for nutritional standards to be enforced in academies and free schools.
She raised concerns that parents would "not be impressed if the 'flagship' schools in the country return to selling crisps, carbonated sugary drinks and confectionery".
But Teather, who responded on behalf of the prime minister, deputy prime minister and secretary of state for education, said that schools converting to academies "will already have been providing healthy, balanced meals" that meet the current standards.
She said: "We have no reason to believe that they will stop doing so on conversion, or that free schools will not do so either."
Teather went on to say she was not aware of any evidence that academies provide meals that are less nutritious than those in maintained schools, adding: "As part of the broader freedoms given to academies and free schools, we trust the professionals to act in the best interests of their pupils."
However caterers argued this did little to address fears that without regular inspection, standards will not be maintained.
Calvin Hanks, quality director at training provider CJ Group, said he wasn't aware of anyone enforcing the nutritional standards anyway.
He said: "I know of schools where the catering, some run by the school and some by contractors, ignore the requirements and serve what they like. After all, no one checked on them."
In Russell's original letter, she demanded to know why the government didn't beef up enforcement of those legislated standards via Ofsted inspections.
But Teather said that the Department for Education has set out proposals to reform school inspections in a bid to make them more proportionate and "free the best schools from routine inspection", adding that parents are key players in monitoring the quality of food at their children's school.
She said: "Governing bodies and local authorities are legally responsible for meeting the school food standards.
"If they do not, any person can complain to the secretary of state who can then, if necessary, issue a direction to the school."
school meal Inspections in Scotland
In Scotland, school meal inspections are carried out by the country's equivalent of Ofsted. Lindsay Graham, director at consultancy firm LGL, explained (via a discussion in LinkedIn group 'We Work in the School Meals Industry'): "Inspection of food in schools has been carried out by HMIE HM Inspectorate of Educating] in Scotland for the past four years.
"I have always advocated that school meals should be part of school inspections throughout the UK. It gives value to the nurturing efforts of the non-teaching staff and places a responsibility on the schools to ensure the pupils have a positive experience of food in the learning environment.
"I for one would welcome the English government having school food and wellbeing as part of the school inspection framework. They don't have to reinvent the wheel; the model is in Scotland and it has been working."
By Janie Stamford
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