The loopholes which exempt some schools from having to serve up healthy and nutritious food must be closed and all schools must sign up to new school food standards, town hall leaders say.
New tougher rules for school meals come into force this week, but do not apply to about 4,000 schools which became academies between September 2010 and 2014. This means more than 2 million pupils attend schools which do not have to comply with the new standards, restricting them from serving too much fried or pastry-based food.
The standards also ensure there is at least one portion of vegetables or salad every day.
Instead, the new regulations are mandatory only for council-maintained schools, new free schools and schools which convert to academy status. Existing academies can choose to sign up to them, but are not compelled to do so.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, says these standards must be mandatory across all schools, regardless of type.
Exempting existing academies from the new standards means one in four pupils could be learning at schools which decide not to meet them. A number of academy chains have chosen to sign up to them, but those who do not can choose to dish up ‘turkey twizzlers’ or install vending machines selling crisps, chocolate and sugary drinks with parents given no say in the matter.
The loophole is a particular worry in light of the introduction of universal free school meals in September 2014, which saw every infant-aged child entitled to receive a free lunch. While those pupils getting a free school meal in a council-maintained school will receive a lunch which meets the new food standards, some children will be at schools that are not held to the same high standard. School census data shows there were 1,789 primary academies, with 540,000 pupils, in January 2014, all of which are exempt from the new standards.
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People’s Board, said:
“Mums and dads rightly expect the food their child eats at school to be healthy and nutritious, so they will be concerned that about 4,000 schools are exempt from these new school food rules unless they choose to follow them.
“School autonomy is supposed to drive up standards but in the case of school meals we now have a two-tier system where one type of school can effectively exempt pupils from healthy choices and instead chose to sell fatty and sugary foods. With ample evidence that good food supports good learning in the classroom, all schools should meet the same high standards.
“It is a particular worry given that for the many children who receive free school meals, lunch is often their main meal of the day. Councils are responsible for the challenge of tackling obesity and poor diet as part of our public health responsibilities and we do not want to see junk food on the menu in any school.
“No school should be exempt from these important standards and we urge the Government to make regulations on school food mandatory to ensure every child receives healthy and nutritious food at school.”