State-run schools have to meet strict nutritional standards for the food they serve and sell. Academy schools don’t. Surely we don’t have to learn all over again that healthy school dinners don’t happen on their own?
What changes when a school becomes an academy? Many things, I’m sure, but one thing that’s worrying from a health point of view is that the academies are exempt from tough nutritional guidelines that state-run schools in England have to follow.
So if a new academy wants to reinstall vending machines selling crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks, it can. If its canteen wants to offer chips and burgers every day, there’s nothing stopping it. If it wants to sell sugary cereal bars instead of fresh fruit, there’s nothing to say it can’t.
I think this can only undermine the sort of improvements that have been made to nutrition in schools over the past five years or so since standards have been in place for primary and secondary schools.
Healthy school dinners in academies
There are nearly 2,000 academies in England now, more than half the total number of secondary schools. I can’t believe that students will suddenly become more inclined to eat healthily because they now attend an academy. Will they start automatically opting for the healthiest choices, spurning those fatty, sugary treats now on offer again at break time?
I know plenty of adults who’d struggle with that. And there are some who have had to learn the hard way that obesity and poor diet are things that have a direct effect on their health sooner or later.
I’m sure some academies are providing food for their students that does meet the national standards. The School Food Trust found this when it looked at food in academies this year. But it also found many others offering students a diet high in fat, sugar and salt.
Channel 4’s Dispatches feature on school dinners, The School Dinner Scandal which aired last night, found that a third of the academies in its investigation were selling junk food that’s banned from sale in state-run schools. When we were tweeting about the programme last night, our follower Lorraine Powers (@TGBPCIC) said:
‘There should be the same tests on school dinners as on the pupils – ground rules for fresh fruit , veg and local food.’
What Which? wants from school dinners
At Which? we want all schools to follow nutritional standards to ensure that lunches are healthy and offer the right mix of nutrients and energy, and that the only snacks on sale are healthy ones like fruit.
The government’s recently announced a review that will look at school food across the country, and establish an ‘action plan’ on how all schools can improve food standards. We’ll be following the review closely and will be encouraging the government to include academies in its plans.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering why some academies seem able to meet the same tough standards as state schools, while other academies can’t. Is there any reason they shouldn’t?