National Food Strategy Part Two is here!

National Food Strategy Part Two is here!
Food Strategy
15 July 2021
The second part of the National Food Strategy report has been released and we’ve taken a good look at the key recommendations regarding school food and food education.

The Government commissioned Henry Dimbleby to write a National Food Strategy, the first of its kind for over 75 years. After releasing Part One in June 2020, with a specific look at urgent responses to Covid-19, we now have the more comprehensive Part Two of the strategy. The report makes recommendations to the Government that aim to create a healthier, equitable and sustainable food system.

We’re delighted to see a significant focus on school meals and food education, an encouraging acknowledgement of the important role schools can play in supporting the health and wellbeing of our children.

“There is so much to be excited about in the National Food Strategy. Henry and his team have spent two years listening and learning from families to work out the best way to support them to live healthier lives. We wholeheartedly support this bold and ambitious strategy, particularly the recommendations to extend free school meals, to commit to at least three years funding for the Holiday Food and Activities programme and to reframe food education as subject worthy of the same attention as English and Maths."

Stephanie Slater, Founder and CEO, School Food Matters

Here we take a look at the recommendations that reflect our mission:

Free school meals (FSM)

Extend eligibility for free school meals to children from families with an annual household income of less than £20,000 before benefits, and to those with no recourse to public funds. Enrol eligible children for free school meals automatically.

We welcome the proposed extension of eligibility that prioritises those most at risk of food insecurity, and that covers all age groups in compulsory education. The extension would see an additional 1.1 million children become eligible for FSM. The recommended introduction of auto-enrolment would also help to remove barriers to accessing FSM, something we have long asked for.

If Government backs this recommendation, 76% of children from families who are food insecure will now be eligible for FSM. Clearly, our shared mission must be that no child goes hungry and that every child has access to nutritious food.

Food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, and the report clearly articulates how a low income makes it difficult for families to eat well. That’s why we’re joining campaigners to call on Government to get behind the evidence and recommendations in the National Food Strategy, and ensure welfare payments are sufficient enough to enable access to good food, starting by cancelling the scheduled cut to Universal Credit.

The proposed extension to eligibility for FSM will be a positive step towards the ambition of universal free school meals, something which is supported by a majority of the public.

“We wholeheartedly welcome the recommendation to extend eligibility for free school meals. Our Covid response programme showed us that one in four of the families who needed our help could not access free school meals. If Government gets behind this recommendation, and invests in the health and wellbeing of its most vulnerable children, it will be a huge step towards the ambition of free school meals for all, which would finally eliminate the stigma attached to the benefits-related offer."

Stephanie Slater, Founder and Chief Executive, School Food Matters

Food Education

Launch a new “Eat and Learn” initiative for schools.

School Food Matters exists to teach children about food, and we understand the importance of getting it right. Implementing this recommendation would ensure children start learning about food in early years settings and that food lessons are properly funded and inspected by Ofsted.

The recommendation includes curriculum changes including sensory education for early years and echoes calls for the re-instatement of Food A-Level, which students strongly support. Backing this up is a call for a boost to recruitment and training to address the shortage of food teachers in secondary schools.

The report also makes clear the importance of food education being sufficiently funded. For many years we’ve seen the strange anomaly of families being asked to pay for ingredients for cooking lessons in school. Since 2014, cooking has been a mandatory part of the national curriculum, so it makes no sense to have this subject funded by parents. It's time to take food education seriously, and by funding ingredients we raise the profile of cooking in schools and remove any barrier to participation experienced by low-income families.

This part of the NFS report also highlights the importance of a ‘whole school approach’, which means ‘integrating food into the life of the school’. This is very welcome, as the principle of a ‘whole school approach’ is central to our work on the Healthy Zones programme. The report further recommends the Government require all schools to work with accreditation schemes such as Food for Life.

“We’re delighted to see this renewed focus on food education from early years to A-Level through the proposed Eat and Learn Initiative. And by shoring up the initiative with accreditation, inspection by Ofsted and government funding for ingredients we have a real chance of fulfilling the vision of the School Food Plan, with every child learning the life skills they need for a happy and healthy life.”

Stephanie Slater, Founder and CEO, School Food Matters

School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme

Double the funding for the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).

We know that there have been problems with the produce supplied to schools as part of the SFVS. The recommendation in the National Food Strategy includes giving the funds for fruit and veg directly to schools to encourage local, high-quality procurement.

The NFS report sets out clear targets for how our diets need to change, including increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by 30% by 2032. This recommendation would see a positive move towards improving the quality and sustainability of the scheme, which 92% of teachers think can increase children’s fruit and veg consumption.

Our ambition is to see the scheme rolled out to all children, as recommended by the Children’s Future Food Inquiry.

Holiday Activities and Food Programme

Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years.

Extending the HAF programme will mean a big increase in the safety net for those who are most vulnerable to food insecurity. We are pleased to see this proposed extension and will campaign for the extension to be permanent.

Healthy Start Scheme

Expand the Healthy Start scheme to include children up to age five from families with an annual household income of less than £20,000 before benefits.

This scheme was in the news last month as a legal battle saw its extension to those with the no recourse to public funds immigration status. Further expanding it to children up to age five will ensure there is no gap in nutritional support for those with the most need between early years provision and taking up free school meals in reception.

Public Sector Procurement

Strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.

Given that we estimate around £1.4 billion is spent on school food each year, procurement is clearly a hugely important area for driving change. Quality in procurement is especially important given that children consume as much as half their food at school and, for many, their only hot meal in a day. We are pleased to see the recommendations that chime with both our past submissions to government regarding procurement, and our submission to the National Food Strategy.

This NFS recommendation includes for the Government to redesign the Government Buying Standards for Food (GBSF), to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent on healthy and sustainable food. This is backed up by a recommendation to accelerate the roll-out of the dynamic procurement scheme being trialled in South West England, which allows local suppliers to more easily sell in their area. These moves will be positive for schools, as food procurement is a complicated process, resulting in 61% of national school catering being provided by just four companies. 

The report also makes clear the need for reducing the amount of meat we eat by at least 30% over the next ten years. It expects the new GBSF to require public institutions to serve less meat and more vegetables, pulses and alternative proteins. It is recommended that the Food Standards Agency has an increased remit to monitor and enforce standards ensuring food is healthy and sustainable.

The recommendation to reduce meat consumption is a necessary move towards healthier people and a healthier planet, and one that we firmly support through our membership of Eating Better and the CEE Bill Alliance.

The Government has committed to responding to the recommendations with a white paper within the next six months, followed by a progress review by Henry Dimbleby 12 months later.  We’ll be joining school food and children’s health campaigners to get these bold and ambitious recommendations across the line.

You can read the full report here.