Focus on DERA (Digital Education Resource Archive): School Meals.

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach . In theory, digital documents are more widely accessible, but in reality as governments change and departments are reorganised, merged or closed, it can become difficult to find specific documents. DERA – the Digital Education Resource Archive – is an online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education. Over time, it has grown with the addition of new organisations, for example some relevant semi-official bodies and think tanks, and we are keen for this to continue.   The repository includes annual reports, consultation documents, guidance, research reports, speeches and statistics. We are committed to making this fully searchable digital archive permanently and freely accessible to all.

By choosing a variety of topics and exploring the scope of material available in DERA we hope to demonstrate how useful a research tool it can be.

The topic of school dinners is one which can lead to lively debate. People usually have a few dishes that they liked and remember fondly but the overall feeling is often one of negativity. Food seemed to have regularly been badly cooked and badly presented. It is only with hindsight that I have thought about the nutritional value of school meals. However this is an important element of the ongoing debate over school meals.

Not all efforts to improve school meals have been as high profile as those of the restaurateur and celebrity chef, Jaimie Oliver’s Feed Me Better Campaign and its accompanying TV series Jamie’s School Dinners (2005). His ideas were implemented in one London borough (Greenwich) where changes were made in the meals offered in schools. The shift was away from low-budget meals high in saturated fat, salt and sugar towards healthier options. These changes were the subject of a study by Michele Belot and Jonathan James, Healthy School Meals And Educational Outcomes (2009).

It is difficult to measure the exact long term effects of the campaign which by 2015 had failed. However as he explained ( Jaimie Oliver admits school dinners campaign failed because eating well is a middle class preserve) the failure was perhaps due to factors beyond Jaimie Oliver’s control. At the time it did serve to alert the public and government to the poor quality of food in many schools.

However ,as an Evening Standard article in April 2018 (A new initiative bringing top chefs into London state primaries is changing school dinners) indicates, chefs have once more become interested in trying to improve the standard of food available in London Primary schools. Indeed Chefs in Schools’ Mission Statement is A revolution in school food led by chefs. Because all school children need to eat, love and learn about fresh food, cooked from scratch. Better is possible.

This is clearly a hot topic of discussion, which explains the high number of initiatives aimed at solving the problem and regular guidelines published by government departments. Keeping up with all of them is not always easy, however House of Commons Briefing Papers, which are produced for the benefit of MPs, offer up-to-date,in-depth and unbiased background information.

Among the many available in DERA, a recent example is UK Parliament (2018). House of Commons Library: Briefing paper: Number 04195, 14 August 2018: School meals and nutritional standards (England). [House of Commons Library Briefing Paper] .It provides background to and up-to-date information about the current four most important aspects of school meals, namely School Food Standards, Funding for School Meals, Free School Meals and Breakfast Clubs. The broad picture provided is enhanced by the inclusion of links to past reports and legislation which have helped to shape recent government initiatives.

Taking a closer look at the wide range of documents on the subject of “school food” on DERA, I discovered a really interesting selection of material related to the work done by Scottish Governments to improve the diet of Scottish school children, thus making a long lasting impact on their lives and an additional beneficial outcome of increased educational attainment.

The Scottish Executive’s desire to rectify the poor nutrition amongst school children resulted in Hungry for Success: A Whole School Approach to School Meals in Scotland. Final Report of the Expert Panel on School Meals(2003), in which the Scottish Executive set out a number of recommendations aimed at revitalising school meals and using the curriculum to link to wider issues such as health education.

The panel’s investigation of current practice included visits to schools to see what actually happened at meal times. As well as establishing nutritional standards for school meals the panel considered the availability of free drinking water, the provision of fruit, what was sold in vending machines and tuck shops and whether it would be possible to limit access to local shops. The needs of disabled pupils and those with dietary restrictions connected to ethnicity, religion or health reasons were noted. The importance of attractive conditions for actually eating school meals was recognised because “After all, what good will it do us to provide the healthiest food in Scotland if nobody comes?”

One of the recommendations was to establish that the HM Inspectorate of Education would be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Scottish Nutrient Standards for School Lunches (included in the Report), which it was recommended would be adopted by all special schools and primary schools by December 2004 and all secondary schools by December 2005. Of course this referred to Scotland only where in 2002 there were 3000 state Schools of which 2300 were Primary Schools, 360 Secondary Schools and 230 Special Schools. About 56.4 million school meals were provided every year.

Another document in DERA published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) (Scotland) is Hungry for success: further food for thought: a report on the implementation of Hungry for success, a whole school approach to school meals in Scotland (2008) .This discusses the effectiveness of the original report. This second progress report included evidence from primary, secondary and primary schools which indicated that many of the aims of Hungry for Success had been met. Most progress had been made in primary schools but progress in secondary schools had been slower which the report attributed to a range of factors including “adolescent culture with its increased peer, societal and commercial pressures”.

During the period of successful implementation of Hungry for Success there had been an increase in childhood obesity and a decline in physical activity amongst children in Scotland. It was acknowledged that the implementation of Hungry for Success across all schools might not be enough to address these problems and needed to be reinforced by other strategies. Encouraging children to participate in at least two hours of good quality physical activity each week and also teaching young people practical food preparation were suggested strategies. The latter strategy may be behind a recent initiative funded by the Scottish Government and administered by the Federation of Chefs Scotland Chefs at School whose motto is “ inspiring food education”.

The past few years have seen a rise in economic problems across the UK. Teachers in Scotland are having to learn how to help their pupils who have been affected by poverty. (Complex challenge of tackling impact of poverty on education by Jamie McIvor). Free School Meals are of great benefit but of course they are usually only provided during term time which can lead to ‘Holiday Hunger’ which is not a new phenonomen (Action urged on school holiday hunger by Judith Burns) but continues to cause concern ( ‘Holiday hunger should be the shame of this government and it isn’t’ by Dawn Foster).

In Scotland the situation has become so bad that authorities have had to make provisions to alleviate the problem. For instance North Lanarkshire Council has established Club 365 (Free meals at weekends and holidays).(Free school meals ‘year-round ‘ for low income families by James Shaw )

Other documents in DERA reflect the importance of good nutritious school meals being available especially for those pupils from families experiencing financial difficulties in other regions of the United Kingdom. This is especially relevant because there have been changes in benefits which can affect eligibility for free school meals.

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (2018). School meals in Northern Ireland, 2017/18: April 2018. [Statistical bulletin (DENI)]

Department for Education (DFE) (2018). Free school meals: guidance for local authorities, maintained schools, academies and free schools. April 2018

(Department for Education (DFE) (2015). Impact Indicator 7: Attainment gap at age 11 between free school meal pupils and their peers. [DfE: input and impact indicators]

This post is only the first in a series highlighting the variety of materials held in DERA. If you want to find out more, please visit our LibGuide.





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