Government Orders School Dinner Review In Drive To Raise Standards

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There has been criticism that the quality of school dinners has dropped in academies
There has been criticism that the quality of school dinners has dropped in academies

Ministers have ordered a review of school dinners amid concerns that some children are still being given unhealthy food.

Around four-fifths of schools do not offer pupils at least one portion of fruit and vegetables a day, while half of secondaries serve up starchy, oily food on a regular basis, according to official figures.

The review will be led by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, co-founders of the Leon restaurant chain, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

Education secretary Michael Gove has faced strong criticism in recent months from TV chef Jamie Oliver who has expressed concern that academies are exempt from tough food standards which apply to other state schools, the Press Association reported.

The new review, which was welcomed by campaigners, will investigate school dinners across the country, and establish an "action plan" on how all schools can improve food standards.

Part of the review will involve looking at the factors which influence the choices schools make about food, the DfE said.

Mr Gove said: "There has been an improvement in school food in recent years with many schools transforming school dinners, introducing food growing into the curriculum and teaching cookery.

"However, there is still more to do particularly in taking localised successes and ensuring they are replicated nationally."

Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the School Food Trust (SFT), said they were "delighted" that Mr Dimbleby and Mr Vincent are leading the review.

"Even aside from the proven benefits of good school food for children's behaviour and concentration, it has such enormous potential to improve public health. With one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, we have to make sure this is being fully realised.

"We agreed with government a long time ago that the sensible time to launch a review was following completion of our study of food in secondary schools.

"In assessing all the progress that's been made, the key thing here is deciding how best to help our schools and caterers keep that progress going."

Mr Dimbleby and Mr Vincent are due to report back with their findings next year.

The Leon chain, which has 13 restaurants in London and the south east, describes itself as offering good, nutritional and affordable food.

Ministers said that in the seven years since Oliver's campaign for healthy dinners there has been a "measurable improvement" in the nutritional quality of the food and in the numbers eating school meals.

This is due to the work of many people, the DfE said.

Oliver's campaign led to junk food being banned from school canteens and vending machines.

Strict nutritional guidelines were made compulsory in primary schools in 2008 and the same policy was introduced in secondaries in 2009.

But last year, the TV chef raised concerns that academies were exempt from these guidelines, and in May he said that children's future health was being put at risk.

The warning came as SFT research showed that over one in four academies are offering crisps and savoury snacks, while around one in six are providing chocolate and sweets.

The TV chef said that the research has provided "solid evidence" for the first time that nutritional food standards in academies are in danger.

Mr Gove has always maintained that giving academies the choice to opt out of nutritional standards gives them the freedom to do what is best for their students, and said there is no reason to believe these schools will not provide meals that meet the regulations.

Around half of secondaries now have, or are in the process of getting, academy status, which gives them more freedoms than other state schools.