Over the last five days, schools in the region took part in the British Nutrition Foundation’s Healthy Eating Week (HEW). Meanwhile, the government released their Food Strategy White Paper on Monday, with little mention of any immediate intention to change their Free School Meals (FSM) plan despite last week’s worrying data.
The campaign promotes educating young people about nutrition at a time when many families are worrying about providing their children with substantial meals. About 1 in 3 children in our region are now entitled to Free School Meals. Additionally, in February, Schools North East, North East Child Poverty Commision, Child Poverty Action Group and Children North East collaborated to urge the Government to use their Food Strategy White Paper to address the issues with FSM by expanding its reach. This week saw the release of this White Paper but without any such promises.
Healthy Eating Week
This is the tenth year of the British Nutrition Foundation’s national campaign to encourage healthy eating within schools and local communities. In Duchess Community High School, HEW was promoted by Louise Milburn, Food and Nutrition teacher. This is the fifth year of Louise running the campaign in school.
Each day all year groups learn about nutrition through group discussions and shared ideas and imagery on school notice boards. Louise told Schools North East:
‘Morrisons in Alnwick donate 220 pieces of fresh fruit every year for our entire Year 7 cohort and Year 7 have also been making bunting to display around school.’
The theme of HEW for 2022 is ‘eat well for you and your planet’. Each day of the week had a different prompt. For example, Friday’s theme is ‘reduce food waste – know your portions’.
Michelin in Middlesbrough
The Nicholas Postage Catholic Academy Trust (NPCAT) has appointed Paul O’Hara as its new trust development chef. Paul has 27 years of cooking experience, previously working in Michelin-starred restaurants and five star hotels before joining the trust to transform the dinners of the 9,000 students within NPCAT’s 27 schools.
The role of development chef will include supporting school cooks, improving the quality of school meals and working alongside students to develop cooking skills and promote knowledge of nutrition.
The students of St Peter’s Catholic College in Middlesbrough received a preview of the future of nutritious school meals from their new trust chef as he launched HEW in class. Paul commented:
‘I’m delighted to take on this exciting opportunity to make a real difference to the health of our young people – after all, what could be more rewarding?’
NPCAT’s Head of Estates and Facilities, Matthew Laverick added that appointing Paul puts their trust ‘at the forefront of the drive to ensure it offers all pupils a healthy and tasty meal every day’. As well as promoting HEW in local schools, Matthew said that their new development chef will ‘visit schools on a rolling basis and look at areas such as presentation, menu choice and the skills of the staff’.
Free School Meals
While a Michelin style presentation is a feast for the eyes, the luxury of fine dining is far from the world of families in the North East who are struggling to make ends meet during this cost of living crisis.
In previous years, the media viewed school lunches as low quality with celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver campaigning for reform. Last month, Oliver again campaigned at Downing Street for children’s health but focusing on obesity and the consequences of 2-for-1 deals rather than school lunches. The pandemic has pulled FSM back into national focus with campaigners such as footballer Marcus Rashford calling for FSM to extend over holiday periods.
Last month Rashford once again spoke out about the need to improve the FSM scheme, backing Labour’s Alan Johnson and Justine Greening, the Conservative former Education Secretary as they called for an extension of FSM. Greening stated ‘the government has a chance to avoid the mess on free school meals that happened last year and get ahead of the next phase of the cost of living crisis for families.’
The percentage of children in the region currently qualifying for FSM is higher than any other area in the country. 1 in 3 students are now eligible for free lunches and there are fears that even these numbers don’t truly represent how many students should be on FSM.
Amanda Bailey, Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission previously worked alongside Schools North East in creating a letter that urged the government to address the additional need in the North East, suggesting the Food Strategy White Paper to be the ideal opportunity for outlining plans.
Unfortunately, earlier this week, the Food Strategy paper was released with minimal changes to FSM, instead pledging that they would ‘keep free school meal eligibility under review’.
With no immediate scope for change at a policy level, schools will continue to try their best in supporting children to the best of their abilities. Campaigns such as Healthy Eating Week allow students to learn more about nutrition and therefore enable them to advocate for themselves.
Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Anna Turley described the White Paper as a ‘monumental letdown’ for families in the North, stating:
‘There is overwhelming evidence that the current free school meal system in England is failing to even support all children living in poverty, and yet the Government has completely flunked a golden opportunity to put that right. It just isn’t good enough to promise to keep the threshold under review. Ministers should be doing that as a matter of course – and struggling families in our region don’t need empty promises, they need support now. Expanding the reach of free school meals would make a massive difference to thousands of North East families, and the Government must rectify this glaring omission from its plan.’
With no definitive time scale on how long the Government will review FSM, schools continue to support their students while families see the impact of the cost of living crisis. Schools promoting HEW got the chance to promote nutrition and health at a time when it was most needed for the students in the North East.
To read the letter to MPs from SNE, CNE, NECPC and CPAG click here: https://mcusercontent.com/12a4bd639231413c724e87521/files/40ca0314-89d2-fd7c-696d-45d2af9a932e/NECPC_CNE_SNE_CPAG_letter_on_National_Food_Strategy_FSMs_07_02_22.pdf
The Food Strategy White Paper can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-food-strategy
To learn more about British Nutrition Foundation’s Healthy Eating Week visit: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-eating-week/
To keep up to date with Schools North East follow us on twitter @SchoolsNE
For more on Schools North East’s policy work visit our website at: https://content.schoolsnortheast.org/policy