Reform in the school meals system is moving too fast and could make things worse, the head of the UK's largest private school meals contractor has warned.
Ian El-Mokadem is UK group managing director at Compass, the owner of Scolarest, which serves one in every 10 meals in the £1b school meals market. Speaking after the LACA conference, he told Caterer that while the company was committed to improving the quality and nutritional value of school meals, the breakneck speed of change was a real concern.
El-Mokadem is particularly worried about the ban on cakes and other confectionery at break times, which comes into force in schools this summer.
"We're a big company and have made provision to weather the storm," he said. "However, I fear the ban is maybe a step too far and will simply see pupils at secondary level voting with their feet."
While primary school children could be kept on the premises and their diet controlled, most secondary schools had no such restrictions and students would likely buy treats from supermarkets and convenience stores on their way in, El-Mokadem said.
He also called for the Government to legislate on packed lunches to stop the work being done in the school meals service being undermined.
"If you're working in an environment where children can't bring in what they like it can work, but at secondary level we need more time to change attitudes," he said. "If we rush it we could achieve the opposite of what we set out to achieve, with fewer students eating a healthy school meal."
However, the School Fund Trust, the organisation set up to champion the changes being made to school meals, said at the conference that the Government was reluctant to legislate for fear of "nanny state" accusations.
By Chris Druce