The Department for Education has published its Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, which includes various mentions of food. Here, we look at what is, and isn’t, included.
In November 2021, a draft of the strategy was shared for comment and we submitted our thoughts, as detailed in this news piece. Now, the strategy has been finalised as a policy paper, with some improvements and some key omissions. The references to food can broadly be divided into two categories: food education and food provision. After 15 years of working on food in schools, here we discuss our thoughts on both areas.
The policy paper outlines an ambition to consider the nation’s physical education estate ‘as a virtual National Education Nature Park’. This aims to engage children with nature as well as improving the biodiversity of school estates. Launching in autumn 2022, the Park will be digitally mapped, so its development can be monitored at a national level.
In developing the park, the strategy suggests children take part in vegetable growing projects and are taught about sustainable food choices. As something School Food Matters has been doing for over a decade, we cannot support this enough!
We are also pleased to see further development of HAF, with specific reference to activities such as discussing food sources, growing fruit and veg, and food preparation.
The sustainability strategy does have one glaring omission in its education section: Food A-Level. The document does, as we recommended in our submission, now include food as a key subject area for tackling the climate and nature crisis. It acknowledges GCSE Food Preparation and Nutrition as presenting a key opportunity for students to be taught about the environment and sustainability. It even recommends considering further steps such as ‘the learning initiatives being taken forward in the Government Food Strategy’.
We are disappointed, therefore, to see no mention of Food A-Level, given it is the only national curriculum subject with no A-Level progression route, and its reinstatement was a recommendation in the National Food Strategy.
All food education needs to be properly resourced, and rigorously inspected by Ofsted, to ensure that all children leave school with these essential life skills for the wellbeing of themselves and their environment.
School food is the biggest area of public sector food procurement in the UK. According to this month’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, food systems are associated with roughly 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, in order to respond to the climate and nature emergency, the environmental impact of school food needs to be mitigated.
The strategy refers to some of our hard-fought wins from the Levelling Up White Paper, including governor training on a whole-school approach, publishing school food statements, and supporting schools to meet food standards. It is encouraging to see the Department for Education (DfE) interacting with other government departments, given how problems in the school food system can be difficult to solve due to departments operating in silos.
We were pleased to see the draftstrategy express a commitment to reviewing the school food standards to allow more flexibility for plant-based options. It is regretful that this commitment has not made it into the final version of the strategy. We know (not least due to our place on the advisory group) that the standards have already been reviewed, an action from The Childhood Obesity Plan (2016), and they just need piloting, approving and implementing.
The latest IPCC report confirms there is robust evidence that a shift towards plant-based diets has ‘high mitigation potential’ for combatting global warming. It finds that eating more plant protein and eating less food with added sugar, salt and saturated fat, will not only benefit people’s health but the planet’s too.
Clearly the DfE recognise this, as its strategy aims to improve uptake of healthy, sustainable meals. It even talks about carbon literacy training being disseminated to school cooks. That being the case, it seems an oddity for this new plan to not update standards that currently mandate schools to serve at least three portions of meat every week.
We welcome the dedication of the government to reducing food waste, given roughly a third of food worldwide is wasted. However, as observed in the IPCC report, shifting to more sustainable diets will see a considerably larger impact on emissions reduction so it is a shame that this has not been given as much prominence.
Overall, we are pleased with the enhanced commitments to growing, cooking, and teaching children about sustainable food, things we are well practised in through our various food education projects. We also welcome aims to reduce food waste and support schools to comply with food standards, key elements of our Healthy Zones work. However, it is a shame that Food A-Level still goes ignored, and particularly concerning that references to more sustainable school food standards have been removed. We continue to offer our 15 years of expertise to DfE and schools as the strategy is implemented.
DfE’s Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems can be read here.