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School food targeted in ‘levelling up’ agenda

The government says it plans to launch a “school cooking revolution” including better monitoring of school food standards under new plans to level up the UK.

On Tuesday, the government unveiled its flagship levelling up white paper which aims “to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it”.

The paper includes a number of initiatives on food and diet as part of a commitment to improve health outcomes for people across the UK.

Many of these focus on school food. A joint project will be launched between the Department for Education and the Food Standards Agency to design and test a new approach for local authorities in England to ensure compliance with school food standards. Pilots involving several local authorities are expected to go live in September.

Schools will be encouraged to complete a statement on their website which sets out their whole school approach to food with the intention that this will become mandatory when schools can do so effectively.

The government also said it would adopt some of the recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategyaround eating and learning.

It plans to invest up to £5m to launch a “school cooking revolution”, including the development of new content for the curriculum and providing bursaries for teacher training and leadership. 

Up to £200,000 will be made available to pilot new training for school governors and academy trusts on a whole school approach to food with the aim that every child leaving secondary school will know how to cook at least six basic recipes.

Dimbleby championed the benefits of a whole school approach to food as part of his recommendation to launch a new “Eat and Learn” initiative for schools. He also called for the government to reinstate the food A-level which was axed in 2016, although this was not addressed in the levelling up whitepaper along with several other of Dimbleby’s recommendations. Further recommendations are however expected to be taken forward in the government’s forthcoming food strategy white paper.

The government has also accepted Dimbleby’s recommendation to trial a Community Eatwell programme by running a three-year pilot which will see GPs able to prescribe fruit and vegetables, as well as food-related education and social support to those suffering, or at risk of, diet-related illness or food insecurity.

The Food Foundation welcomed the measures as a step forward in ensuring that children can eat well at school. “More robust school food monitoring is something that we have been calling for over many years, and has been identified as a priority by the School Food Review working group of which we are part,” it said, adding that details of how inspections would work in practice are now needed.

The Obesity Health Alliance said that although plans to help schools meet the school food standards were welcome, they represented a small part of what is needed to improve children’s health and diets.