THIRD SPECIAL REPORT
The Education and Employment Committee has agreed
to the following Special Report:
GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE TO THE FIRST REPORT
OF THE EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT COMMITTEE, 1999-2000
The Education and Employment Committee reported to
the House on School Meals in its First Report of Session 1999-2000,
published on 7 December 1999 as HC96. The Government's response
to that Report was received on 14 February 2000. It is reproduced
as an Annex to this Special Report.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE FIRST REPORT
FROM THE EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT COMMITTEE, SESSION 1999-2000:
RESPONSE FROM THE DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION
14 February 2000
THE EDUCATION SUB-COMMITTEE'S REPORT ON
I am responding on behalf of the Government to the
Sub-committee's report on school meals, published on 14 December.
As you know, our consultation on draft regulations
and guidance ended last month and I have been pleased with the
level of interest there has been in it. The Sub-committee's report
has doubtless contributed to raising the profile of school meals
and encouraging more people to write to us. I am grateful for
that. The responses will not only help us to improve the drafting
of regulations and guidance, but have also been key to informing
this response to the Select Committee.
The majority of respondents to the consultation supported
food-based standards. Support for nutrient-based standards was
largely confined to health professionals, most of whom saw a role
for them, either as the base for standard-setting or as a means
of monitoring that food-based standards were providing adequate
amounts of key nutrients.
Many of those who commented told us that in seeking
to strike a balance between compulsory regulations and good practice
guidance we had come down too heavily on the side of regulation.
The proposal to restrict the frequency of serving popular foods
such as chips, baked beans and cheese, particularly in secondary
schools, gave rise to particular concerns. There was a widely-held
view that the key to improving the eating habits of students at
secondary schools was a process of educating them to make balanced
Proposals to restrict the fat and sugar content of
foods high in one or both to a percentage of their uncooked weight
in primary schools was deemed by almost all of those who commented
as impractical. However, few respondents made alternative suggestions
for how the fat and sugar might be limited.
The following alternative timetable for phasing in
the standards was suggested by several respondents:
From 1 September 2000: nursery schools, primary schools,
middle-deemed primary schools
From 1 September 2001: secondary schools, middle-deemed
The Government's response to the Sub-committee's
specific recommendations is as follows.
We recommend that the Government should not
be over-prescriptive in its approach to implementing minimum nutritional
standards for school lunches.
The Government accepts this recommendation.
We are committed to setting minimum nutritional standards
which help all pupils to have nutritionally-balanced school lunches
but which are practical for caterers to implement. I accept that
many respondents to the consultation found our proposals too detailed.
We have taken note of these concerns and will act on them to ensure
that the regulations are less prescriptive.
When the regulations are laid before Parliament,
I will send copies to members of the Committee.
We agree with UNISON and the Child Poverty
Action Group that the Government should carry out research into
the reasons for low take up of free school meals and we recommend
that the research should study the attitudes of children and their
parents to claiming their entitlement to free school meals.
In principle the Government accepts this recommendation.
We are concerned that 322,000 pupils who were known
to be eligible for a free school lunch did not have a meal on
the day when the statistics were collected in January 1999. As
we stated in Ingredients for Success published in October
1998, our aim is to encourage more pupils entitled to free school
lunches to take them.
We are discussing with the Child Poverty Action Group
the proposed scope of such a study. As I am sure you will appreciate,
I cannot give a firm commitment to funding ahead of the confirmation
of the Department's research budget for 2000-01, but I hope that
we will be able to support a project in this area. I am keen that
a study results in practical strategies which schools can employ
to increase uptake of free school meals.
We recommend that the Government should draw
on additional resources from the New Deal for Schools, the Standards
Fund or the New Opportunities Fund to support investment in the
provision of school kitchens and dining areas.
It is one of the Government's priorities to improve
the schools estate. We have implemented major increases in capital
investment. Funding is more than doubling over the next three
years. Over this period over £5.5 billion will be invested
in school buildings in England.
Funding is available through the New Deal for Schools
for improving school buildings. This money is paid through the
Standards Fund. New Deal for Schools funding has already supported
improvements to school meals facilities. It can be used in the
future to modernise school kitchens and dining rooms, if schools
and local education authorities wish to prioritise that work.
In addition, from April 2000 schools will also have some £190
million of new funding in the form of devolved formula capital.
If they wish, this can be used for modernising or repairing kitchens
and dining areas.
The Government will be considering the priorities
for future initiatives to be funded by the New Opportunities Fund.
We are planning to issue good practice guidance on
the design of school dining facilities.
We recommend on dental and more general health
grounds that school pupils should be encouraged to take drinks
which are free of sugar and additives or have low levels of sugar
Our proposals require drinking water to be freely
available every day. All respondents who commented on this point
agreed with the proposal. We will encourage the provision of alternatives
to soft drinks, such as milk and fruit juice. We do not plan to
ban outright any foods or drinks from school lunches.
Recommendations 6 and 12
We recommend that headteachers should work
with governors and parents to agree on ways to monitor the nutritional
value of packed lunches which pupils bring to school.
We recommend that, to be consistent with a
whole school approach, the contribution of vending machines and
school tuck shops to children's diets should be monitored by headteachers
and governing bodies.
The Government does not propose to introduce a legal
obligation for other school food or packed lunches brought from
home to comply with specific nutritional standards. Any attempts
by school staff to control the quality of pupils' lunch boxes
would be impractical and for some parents this would constitute
an unacceptable intrusion into family life. It would also be an
unacceptable burden on schools. We support a whole-school approach
so that pupils receive consistent messages about food and nutrition.
I know that some schools have worked closely with parents to encourage
them to improve the nutritional balance of the packed lunches
they provide for their children. This is something I support,
but I strongly believe that a light touch is called for. We plan
to draw up practical guidance for schools on adopting a whole
school approach, encompassing vending machines, tuck shops and
We recommend that school governors and local
education authorities should take steps to make it a priority
that all schools should have enough space for children with packed
lunches to sit with their peers taking hot meals. We would prefer
peer pressure to work in the direction of encouraging school pupils
to opt in rather than opt out of school meals.
I fully agree that pupils should be encouraged to
have a school meal. We would like as many pupils as possible to
take school meals, while allowing them the freedom to opt for
alternatives, if that is what they or their parents wish. Where
space and other constraints permit pupils to sit with their friends,
whether they are having a school meal or a packed lunch, I would
support such arrangements. We will look at encouraging this in
the good practice guidance on a whole-school approach mentioned
In our view, a school lunch service which does
not offer a hot meal will have difficulty in attracting pupils
who always have the alternativeif their parents can afford
itof bringing a packed lunch.
It falls outside the scope of the Secretary of State's
current powers to introduce a mandatory requirement to provide
a hot meals service. Section 114 of the School Standards and Framework
Act 1998 permits him to set 'nutritional standards or other nutritional
requirements' for school lunches.
I recognise that while hot meals in winter can be
comforting, they are less likely to be popular choices during
a summer heatwave. We would like school meals providers to have
the flexibility to respond to pupils' tastes by offering a salad
bar, for example. However, I am aware that many parents perceive
hot school meals as providing added value and that the replacement
of a hot service by a cold one can make school meals seem less
attractive. We will address these issues in guidance.
We strongly agree that there is great value
in communal school meals being used to enhance the sense of community
We accept this recommendation.
We recommend that the DfEE should revise and
simplify further the guidance to caterers, in consultation with
their representatives, so that it recognises the skills and expertise
of the readership to whom it is addressed.
We accept this recommendation.
The responses to our consultation made numerous suggestions
for improving the guidance, including giving it a sharper focus,
differentiating more clearly between compulsory requirements and
good practice and simplifying or removing some sections. We will
take account of suggestions made and will work closely with caterers
to ensure that the final version is appropriate for the target
On balance we agree with the view of the National
Heart Forum that the compulsory element of the Regulations should
be based on scientific nutrient-based guidelines, and that contracts
with caterers should specify minimum nutritional standards which
can readily be enforced. While we welcome the food group approach
as helpful non-technical guidance for lay governors and parents,
we are not persuaded that it is a suitable basis for statutory
The Government does not support this recommendation
and believes that it is inconsistent with the Committee's wish
to see less prescriptive standards.
Most respondents to our recent consultation agreed
that national nutritional standards should be expressed in terms
of foods rather than nutrients. The Government concurs with the
LACA that nutrient-based standards would be too complicated to
introduce, maintain and monitor on a frequent basis. In the words
of one respondent, nutrient-based standards can be 'a tyranny
of numbers'. School caterers are experts in their field but they
are not qualified dietitians.
Food-based standards reflect current Government advice
on the types and proportions of foods that make up a healthy,
balanced diet, particularly the need to eat greater amounts of
starchy foods and fruit and vegetables. They can be readily understood
by caterers when planning menus, ordering supplies, serving food
and self-monitoring compliance with the standards. They are, therefore,
more likely to be successfully implemented. The flexibility which
food-based standards provide is less likely to lead to large amounts
of plate waste. There is no nutritional value in food that is
Recommendations 13 and 14
We recommend that greater efforts should be
made to provide an attractive choice of fruit at break times.
We recommend that the DfEE should work with MAFF to secure an
expanded intervention stocks disposal scheme as the basis for
a wider national fruit and vegetable scheme for schools.
The Government accepts both of these recommendations
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables brings many health
benefits, most notably decreasing the risk of chronic diseases
including coronary heart disease and cancer. A target of at least
five portions of vegetables and fruit each day has been advocated
by the UK's Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition
Policy, as well as the World Health Organisation. However, intakes
in the UK are among the lowest in Europe, on average only three
portions each day and among children, intakes are particularly
We are considering the possibility of introducing
an initiative to boost the consumption of fruit in schools, subject
to securing funding and resolving a number of practical problems.
These relate to the seasonality of fresh fruit and the lack of
an existing suitable distribution mechanism to schools.
We propose to address the issue of fruit in tuck
shops in our guidance on a whole-school approach.
MAFF is funding researchers in various parts of the
UK to investigate the effectiveness of different primary school-based
interventions in increasing children's fruit and vegetable consumption.
The results should help to inform these initiatives.
Recommendations 15 and 16
We recommend that monitoring should be based
realistically on what children actually eat. The onus should be
on the contractor to meet nutrient-based standards, subject to
independent spot checks, which should reduce the need for extensive
monitoring by governors or local education authorities.
We recommend that OFSTED should be required
to report on the effectiveness of the arrangements a school or
local education authority has to monitor its compliance with national
In line with the Committee's recommendations and
the widely-held view among respondents to our consultation, we
will be simplifying the proposed regulations. The arrangements
for monitoring compliance must be commensurate with the standards.
Light touch standards will require light touch monitoring. Our
good practice guidance proposes that caterers should regularly
complete straightforward checklists to make sure that they are
meeting the standards. It will be for the local education authority
or, where responsibility for school meals is delegated, the school
governing body to make sure that the school meals contractor is
complying with the standards. We may conduct our own sample surveys
from time to time and we will investigate any complaints that
the standards are not being met and could issue a direction to
ensure compliance with statutory duties.
The Government is committed to raising the standard
of pupils' attainment in schools and accepts that a child who
has eaten properly is more receptive to learning. However, it
is also committed to reducing the administrative burdens on schools,
including those placed upon them by inspections. OFSTED's frameworks
for school and LEA inspections already make substantial demands
of schools and inspectors. Its remit is concerned with educational
standards and its inspectors are not qualified to assess nutritional
standards. We do not, therefore, agree that OFSTED should be required
to check additionally on how monitoring of nutritional standards
is being carried out.
In addition the Government will continue to monitor
children's diets. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey of almost
2000 4 to 18 year olds carried out in 1997-8 collected information
about what some of the pupils ate as part of a school lunch. The
results of the survey will be published in the next few months.
This study and future ones will enable us to monitor changes in
children's eating patterns in the context of our wider health
Finally, I would like to thank the Committee once
again for its interest in school meals and its valuable contribution
to our discussions on nutritional standards.