Hungry for Success
Section 6 OTHER RELEVANT FACTORS
Food Provision in Schools
Other Significant Issues
6.1 Our remit was to establish standards for the nutrient content of school meals, to eliminate any stigma attached to taking free school meals and to improve school lunch uptake. However, we recognise that food in schools is not just about what happens at lunchtime. A whole school approach, which promotes consistency across what is taught in the classroom with what is provided in school dining rooms, breakfast clubs, tuckshops, vending machines and after-school clubs is required.
6.2 While these issues were not part of our remit, they are important. We consider it essential that appropriate guidance is developed for the future. The evidence on which our recommendations are based has highlighted the importance of addressing whole school issues.
Food Provision in Schools
6.3 The importance of a healthy breakfast for children is recognised by educational and health professionals. Breakfast clubs exist in many schools and community venues throughout Scotland. They are set up for a variety of reasons, the main one being to ensure that children start the day with a healthy breakfast. As well as benefiting children's health, breakfast clubs are also helping to improve children's attendance, punctuality and educational performance at school. It is important that a healthy breakfast is offered in keeping with a whole school approach. Research in Scotland suggests that breakfast clubs are more sustainable when the social aspects are well developed and integrated with food provision.
6.4 Good practice guidelines for breakfast clubs have been produced based on the experience of breakfast clubs around the country. Breakfast Clubs A Head Start (Scottish Community Diet Project 2001) is a step by step guide to the ups and downs of setting up and running a Breakfast club and includes Healthy Breakfast guidelines. Street and Kenway (1999) in their report provide further discussion on the barriers to the development and sustainability of breakfast clubs, and review the strengths and weaknesses of the various ways of running breakfast clubs.
6.5 Breakfast clubs are currently funded in a variety of ways. Traditionally, funding has been granted by education authorities and Health Boards to support programmes, mainly in Social Inclusion Partnership areas. In November 2001, the Scottish Executive launched a new strategic approach to breakfast service provision in Scotland. The Scottish Executive has provided 250,000 for a new Breakfast Service Grant to expand services targeted on vulnerable children most in need of a breakfast service.
We took the view that the future development of breakfast clubs should ensure that nutritional and health benefits are maximised.
6.6 Tuckshop policy is currently a matter for individual schools. We are aware that the vast majority of schools who run tuckshops do so to raise money to finance the purchase of 'extras' for their pupils rather than to provide nutritious snacks to support a healthy diet. However, our audit of current practice highlighted a growing prevalence for healthy tuckshops and vending machines.
6.7 Influencing what is available in the tuckshop so that the food sold links to what is being taught in the curriculum is very important in reinforcing a whole school approach. It is therefore vital that competitively-priced, healthy food is available and promoted in school tuckshops. Many schools have recognised this and have developed a partnership with their catering provider. This encourages a more integrated approach whilst generating necessary income for the schools.
6.8 Vending machines are often criticised for selling only unhealthy snacks and soft drinks. It is important, therefore, to address this issue. When a school is promoting healthy eating within the classroom and elsewhere, the availability of vending machines with unhealthy stock serves to undermine efforts of the whole school approach.
6.9 It would be unrealistic for many schools to remove vending machines. However, steps should be taken to make healthier choices more readily available and to ensure that any advertising contained on the casing of vending machines is in line with the whole school approach. Recent moves by a number of education authorities to replace the traditionally strong soft drinks branding with less sensitive pictures and products are seen as positive strategies.
6.10 There are examples of good practice in vending, specifically a healthy vending programme developed by one education authority. We recognise that vending is a necessary source of income and an excellent method of reducing queues by offering an additional sales outlet.
6.11 The national body representing vending machine suppliers is the Automatic Vending Association of Britain (AVAB). AVAB has an agreed code of practice that acknowledges health as a criterion in the delivery of food.
We took the view that inappropriate options provided by tuckshops and vending machines have the potential to hinder the successful implementation of the findings of our report. We therefore highlight the need for national guidance in these areas with the objective of promoting healthier choices and improved diet.
Milk in Schools
6.12 The Scottish Executive currently subsidises the cost of milk which is provided to schools and nurseries under the control of local authorities in response to local needs. The Scottish Executive policy on the provision of milk is informed by expert medical and dental advice. We took the view that the current arrangements for the provision of milk in schools are adequate.
Fruit in Schools
6.13 Throughout Scotland there have been many successful projects which have resulted in an increase in fruit consumption by children. These have tended to be targeted at Social Inclusion Partnership areas and have been time limited in funding. Recently, Glasgow City Council, in association with NHS Greater Glasgow, developed "Fruit Plus". The programme is aimed at all 3-12 year olds, who are provided with fruit three times a week. Fruit is used as a learning tool in order to increase children's awareness and the popularity of fruit products. Forth Valley NHS Board have been piloting the Bangor University's "Food Dude" programme to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. These types of strategy are likely to have a positive impact on long term health.
We took the view that each education authority and NHS Board should explore further ways to increase the popularity of fruit amongst school age and pre-school age children.
6.14 We recognised the important role that after school clubs can play both in promoting healthy eating in any food that they provide and also in helping children and young people understand the important role of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Other Significant Issues
The Role of Sponsorship
6.15 Sponsorship of school meals provision has been the subject of much criticism in the past and the Scottish Consumer Council, the Health Education Board for Scotland and the Public Health Institute of Scotland believe it can give the wrong message to schools, pupils and parents.
6.16 Sponsorship has been used by caterers to assist in the funding of improvement projects and to capitalise on the brand loyalty which permeates from the high street. School caterers have a difficult role in promoting healthy eating, competing with external outlets in providing an environment that is seen as 'trendy' and uninstitutionalised. Commercial sponsorship, mainly from existing suppliers, has allowed caterers to compete and invest, but it is important that we do not encourage the over branding which exists in some schools.
6.17 Some education authorities have managed to fund reinvestment in facilities and to de-brand their services. This has resulted in a modern, popular service, which has no obvious commercial branding. This is seen as good practice and a strategy which should be encouraged.
6.18 We feel that education authorities who have managed to improve their facilities and popularise their service without inappropriate commercial branding deserve particular praise.
Entitlement to Free School Meals
6.19 Entitlement to free school meals is set out in section 53 of the Education Act (Scotland) 1980. Parents and guardians entitled to free school meals may find out about eligibility through a variety of sources, such as, the Department of Work and Pensions and local authorities. The new tax credits will have an impact on current arrangements and this will have to be considered. Our concern is to ensure people are made aware of any entitlement to free school meals that they may have and that no one falls through the net. One way of doing this might be by providing relevant information about eligibility criteria within school handbooks or other material issued to parents.
We took the view that the Scottish Executive should examine how families are informed about eligibility to free school meals and also the eligibility criteria to ensure that families and young people do not fall through a gap. The Scottish Executive should reassure themselves that the criteria for eligibility remain appropriate.
School Meals (Scotland) Bill
6.20 We considered that this Bill and subsequent Debate were very helpful in raising issues that need to be addressed and endorsed the need for nutrient standards and access to free water. There was not a consensus view on the merits of the Bill but the majority view was that the Bill proposals were inappropriate and did not tackle the main issues involved. Furthermore, we believe that blanket provision is not the best way to ensure that deprived and vulnerable children take school meals. Instead resources should be targeted where they are most needed. It was also not clear that stigma was the main reason for the gap in free school meals uptake. The way to secure an improvement in take up overall is to improve the quality of the service. Also we questioned whether the Bill would eliminate stigma as parents who could afford to do so might still provide their children with money to eat elsewhere. This could result in a larger group of children with the stigma of having to take free school meals. While we recognise that genuine problems exist for some children, our majority view was to reject the Bill in favour of our own more comprehensive approach to improving the health of Scotland's children.
European Council Drinking Water Directive
6.21 As part of our considerations we were informed by the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland about the expected effect of the European Council Drinking Water Directive which comes into force in 2004 and about the consultation exercise covering regulations about water supplies in public buildings. While we have recommended that free, fresh, chilled drinking water should be available within the dining room itself, we also consider that children should have access to good quality tap drinking water throughout the school day. This view has been conveyed within our response ( Annex H) to the consultation.
Recommendation 24: The Scottish Executive should consider what further work needs to be done to take forward the additional important and related issues identified by the Expert Panel.