How are school meals provided in Wales?
Councils provide ‘in-house’ catering services in the vast majority of maintained schools. Other providers include contract caterers and schools, who employ catering staff directly. Catering services are provided at lunchtime in all schools, morning break in secondary schools, and breakfast in most schools. School meals are commonly prepared onsite through full production kitchens. In a small number of schools, meals are transported in from larger schools or a central production unit.
Why is healthy eating in schools important?
There has been long standing concern about the number of children who are overweight or obese and the impact this has on health and wellbeing. Poor diet is a major contributing factor. The food and drink provided in schools can make a positive contribution towards giving children and young people a healthy balanced diet and encouraging them to develop good eating habits. The aim is to achieve a whole-school approach towards healthy eating and to encourage healthy attitudes to food and drink from an early age. This is in line with the Health and Well-being Area of Learning and Experience within the new Curriculum for Wales.
What is healthy eating in schools?
The food and drink provided in all maintained schools must meet The Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013 (‘Regulations’). These Regulations are based of the previous Appetite for Life guidelines and form part of the wider Healthy Eating in Schools (Wales) Measure 2009 (‘Measure’).
The Regulations set out nutritional standards for an average school lunch as well as food and drink requirements throughout the school day. The nutritional standards specify minimum or maximum values for energy and 13 nutrients, which apply to an average school lunch calculated over each week of a menu cycle. The food and drink requirements describe the types of food and drink that must be provided, restricted and not permitted between breakfast and 6pm.
The Measure gave Welsh Ministers the power to make the above Regulations and places several duties on councils and school governing bodies to promote healthy eating and drinking by pupils. To monitor compliance, school governing bodies are required to provide information in their annual report on the action taken to promote healthy eating and drinking by pupils at their schools. Estyn is required to report to the Welsh Ministers on the action taken by schools.
Statutory guidance for local authorities and governing bodies is a practical guide to implementing the above legislation. Councils and school governing bodies must take account of this, and if they decide to depart from it, have clear and justifiable reasons for doing so.
Within the Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales 2022 to 2024 delivery plan, the Welsh Government have committed to ‘reviewing the regulations on school food nutrition in line with the latest nutritional standards and guidelines, and update current standards’. This is expected to consider food and drink provision, the timing of these provisions during the school day and the space available to sit and eat school meals. In 2019, Estyn’s Healthy and happy report noted that ‘schools have shortened the lunch break’ and ‘not all schools have enough space for pupils to sit and eat a meal at lunchtimes’. These issues are more prevalent in secondary schools and can ‘contribute to pupils not eating a balanced meal’.
How are the WLGA supporting healthy eating in schools?
The WLGA’s Food in Schools Team comprises a Food in Schools Manager, a Food in Schools Programme Coordinator and a National Dietitian for Special Diets in Schools.
The main responsibility of the Food in Schools Manager is to advise and support councils and schools to achieve and maintain compliance with the Measure and Regulations. This includes the provision of nutritional analysis software, training to undertake nutritional analyses, a Nutritional Analysis Guide, an Evidence Guide and Toolkit, Posters and a Briefing for head teachers and governing bodies.
The Food in Schools Manager issues annual Certificates of Compliance to catering services that submit accurate and compliant evidence and have their provision checked by the responsible council or school governing body. This process is voluntary and can be used as evidence during Estyn inspections and Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes (WNHSS) National Quality Award (NQA) assessments. Most councils and the main contract caterer in Wales engage with the certification process. Secondary schools who organise their own catering arrangements are particularly encouraged to engage. Estyn has reported that ‘in around half of these schools, the governing body has not taken enough steps to assure themselves that their caterer complies with the legal nutritional standards’.
In addition to the above, the Food in Schools Manager has prepared a document for Estyn inspectors and WNHSS NQA assessors, highlighting Obvious breaches, inconsistent messages and good practices relating to healthy eating in schools, and information for parents about Healthy snacks and Healthy drinks in primary schools to encourage healthier food and drink brought into school.
The other members of the WLGA’s Food in Schools Team support the Food in Schools Manager in relation to healthy eating in schools, contributing expertise in school catering and dietetics, and have specific responsibilities. The Food in Schools Programme Coordinator coordinates and supports food in schools’ programmes on behalf of Welsh Government and WLGA, working with councils, schools and partner agencies. The National Dietitian for Special Diets in Schools advises and supports Welsh Government, councils and schools in relation to special diets in schools’ matters, developing guidance and training for managing special diets in schools.