|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The involvement of parents is important. They have a right to expect a good education for their child, but play a crucial role in that themselves. They must accept that they have responsibility for ensuring that a child behaves well and attends school, but parents can expect schools to promote healthy eating and living to complement what parents are increasingly emphasising at home. All that is part of increased parental involvement in ensuring the quality of everything that happens within the school gates. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said a couple of weeks ago, parents will be in the front line of a new drive to improve the quality of school dinners.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): On improving quality, one area has not been touched on. Local procurement of fresh produce is terribly important, but the mire of Government regulation on procurement, a lot of which comes from the European Union, makes it incredibly difficult for many schools to buy locally the produce that they want rather than having to go through lots of ridiculous tendering processes. Will the Government do anything to cut that red tape, allowing schools actively to discriminate in favour of fresh local produce?
Parents are demanding healthier food throughout the school day, not only at lunchtime but at breakfast clubs and breaks. That means vending machines and tuck shops, and schools are responding by limiting consumption of high-sugar carbonated drinks and
25 Feb 2005 : Column 601
high-sugar snacks with high levels of additives. The development of the parents' website, the toolkit and the school fund trust will give more information and help persuade parents that they can make a difference. Good schools already look to involve their parents as much as possible. That is a two-way relationship: parents can help the schools to drive up food standards, which will make it easier to make sure that their children eat healthily at school.
Peter Bradley: The process has to be two-way. A health visitor told me that she would be delighted if some parents in one part of my constituency, where coronary heart disease and cancer are extraordinarily high, not least because of the lack of a balanced diet, would, once a week, buy just a packet of frozen peas from their local food store. That tells us the challenge that is before us. It is not just about parents demanding higher standards at school but about all of us trying through public education, Sure Start and other initiatives to build a culture in which there is a place for convenience food but the link is properly established between a balanced healthy diet, which will support local growers and producers and contribute to the health of local communities, both among children and their parents.
Derek Twigg: I completely agree. It is important to promote healthier eating throughout the community and that is a two-way process in terms of the involvement of parents in schools. In my own constituency, good projects have brought in parents, particularly from disadvantaged communities, to get good advice that has been used to achieve better and healthier eating.
In that context, parents can also benefit from increased support and guidance. Children are more likely to be aware of the importance of healthy eating and living if their parents are. One strand of food in schools will provide advice on healthier packed lunches. According to the Food Standards Agency, three quarters of an estimated 5.5 billion packed lunches brought to school every year fail to meet basic nutritional standards.
Geraint Davies: What, if anything, is my hon. Friend going to do about the school lunchbox problem? He said when he began that he was against my Bill because it is a top-down approach, yet I agree with everything that he has said. What I am saying seems to be consistent with what he is saying, so will he say specifically what in the Bill is a top-down approach with which he does not agree? The Ofsted approach, to enable parents to have the power to measure the success of schools and put pressure on them through, for example, gating and participation, should be encouraged now by the Government under existing legislation.
Our new policies on children's centres and extended schools have provided scope for schools to take a lead in helping families with children to prepare and cook better. The number of growing and cooking clubs is increasing. Together with increased visits to city farms and the countryside, those clubs are making a huge
25 Feb 2005 : Column 602
contribution to helping children to understand better where food comes from and the benefits of fresh or locally sourced food.
We welcome the debate because we want to engage the wider community. The food industry, caterers, nutritionists and food interest groups can have a major role to play in setting up a new independent school fund trust. That would enable the industry to make a valuable contribution to improving food and drink provision in schools. Working together in that way, we can set the agenda. The trust will be in an ideal position to give independent advice and support to schools and parents to improve the standards of school meals.
Yesterday, we issued a consultation letter to the food industry, caterers, nutritionists and many others who can make a difference to school food. The letter covered many of the issues that I have just described, but it also asked for their views on the new charitable school fund trust. We want the trust to drive through reform with the help and support of a full range of stakeholders as part of the drive to emphasise the key importance of consultation as we work together to set the future agenda, and I want to spend a little time talking about the importance of that to pupils.
Taken together, the measures will ensure what we all want: a better meal and a better deal for school children. We are already building on what is there. Every four to six-year-oldnearly 2 million childrenis eligible for a free portion of fruit or vegetables every school day. Current minimum nutrition standards in secondary schools ensure that at least two items from food groups such as fruit and vegetables, and sources of protein, are always available during lunch service. There is education on healthy living and eating during personal, social and health education, science and sport lessons. Sport is particularly important to the overall improvement of the health of young people and children. The Government have allocated some £1.5 billion to improve sport and PE in school.
The aim is that schools will offer healthier food to their pupils throughout the school day. Parents will play a bigger part in ensuring the highest standards for school meals. The food industry will be able to play its part in setting a healthy food agenda. All in all, pupils will be able to choose healthier food and have the support that they need to make the right choices. The aim must be for them to be able to do that at any time, inside or outside the school gates.
I now come to the specifics of why the Government will oppose the Bill. I welcome the debate and the interest that my hon. Friend Bill has generated. We feel that, although we should of course back a lot of the issues that he wants to raise, we cannot back the Bill and the Government are already doing quite a lot. We are already moving forward with improvements to school food and nutrition and, at this stage, we do not need unnecessary legislation to sustain that progress.
I want to give a number of reasons why we should oppose the Bill. First, we are already considering ways to educate children in healthy eating habits and to help every school ensure the highest nutritional standards for the food that it serves up. There is a lively debate about whether we should adopt nutritional standards based on food groups, as the Bill advocates, or standards based on nutrient intake, as advocated by the Caroline
25 Feb 2005 : Column 603
Walker Trust and the Scottish Executive. We have commissioned an expert group to advise us on the way forwarda way that is nutritionally robust, but also manageable for schools. We hope that Members will agree that that aspect of the Bill is premature, as the expert group will not report until the end of the year. When it does, we already have legislation that we can and will use to introduce tougher standards that schools are willing and able to implement.
Introducing legislation that puts the onus on the local education authorities to ensure minimal standards is not the way to go. Two of the principles of the new relationship with schools are that we reduce bureaucracy and encourage both independence and collaboration where required, because each school is best placed to make the most appropriate decisions for its pupils.
I note that the Bill envisages putting the school food trust on a statutory footing. In my view, that is unnecessary. We are drawing up the necessary legal documents at present and believe that the trust can operate effectively in the normal framework of charitable and company law.
We cannot persist with a culture in which a central directive tells schools everything that they can and cannot do, such as exactly what a vending machine can and cannot sell. One size does not fit all. We are committed to giving schools the flexibility, autonomy and support that they need to make the day-to-day decisions for themselves. They know the needs, interests and attitudes of their pupils and what needs to be done to secure the best education for every child. Our role must be to provide a framework, guidance and support that they need to make those decisions. I want to make it clear that we do not support the sale of food and drink in vending machines if it has a poor nutritional content, particularly if it is high in salt, fat and sugar.
We are producing guidance for schools through the food in schools programme and that will be available soon. I know that major suppliers of vending products and catering services are re-examining their approach to vending, in consultation with schools. The important thing is that schools take a holistic view of the full range of provision to ensure that vending sits comfortably with that broader policy.
It is up to schools to determine the lunchtime policy that works best for them. That is not a matter for legislation. Schools that require learners to remain on site at lunchtime and offer constructive activities and appropriate supervision during the lunch hour find that learning behaviour and attendance are better as a result. Supporters of the Bill have a valid point in that too many secondary school pupils are consuming unhealthy food purchased from premises around the school at lunchtime and we know that some pupils eligible for free school meals opt to do that rather than eat in school. But lunchtime management is up to individual head teachers, and heads must consider cover arrangements carefully to keep them in line with the school work force agreement.
Lunchtime activities can be part of extended services, which are essential to the drive to give every pupil the opportunity, provision and support to fulfil their
25 Feb 2005 : Column 604
potential and make the best choices for themselves in school and beyond. School leaders know best where they have the capacity and resources to offer high quality and enjoyable activities in a secure and stimulating environment.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|