Ofsted And Food By The Childrens Food Trust

 Ofsted and food.

Education Magazine (EM)  Do schools need Ofsted inspections involved in the school food programme? Is the Turkey Twizzler scandal an argument for Ofsted getting involved as well?

Linda Cregan (LC)       Ofsted’s new common inspection framework ensures that inspectors will now observe pupils over lunchtime. They will be looking to see that children can explain accurately and confidently how to keep themselves healthy. For us that is a really important way of demonstrating just how important school food and the dining environment is to the rest of the school, so it is not just about what the children are learning in lessons. It is about what they’re learning about eating well in the dining room and other times of the day.  We’ve come such a long way since the days of Turkey Twizzlers - I’d be horrified if I walked into a school and found them again, as would anyone!  There is legislation in place to make sure school meals are giving children healthy variety, and schools have an obligation to meet that legislation. Caterers are the ones that really welcome Ofsted inspections. That’s not about inspecting whether they are adhering to the standards - that’s not the role of Ofsted here. It’s about the emphasis on the role of lunchtime in children’s learning about food and as part of the school day. Every single caterer, cook and other member of staff working in the dining room at lunchtime has welcomed that aspect.  

EM       Does Ofsted dovetail in with the advice you provide and what is the benefit?

LC        There’s been a lot of work done on Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework, and support from the School Food Plan. They have produced a document to help inspectors when they are going in and looking at food. Bringing it down to its very basic level, we know that when kids eat better, they do better in the classroom. Our own research into primary school children shows that when they are eating better in a better environment, they are three times more focused in class in the afternoon. In secondary schools that on-task behaviour improves by 18%.  Positive messages from Ofsted about the food that’s being served in school and schools being committed to the health and wellbeing of children at school is a very good thing to have.

EM       Where do you want this policy to lead in 5-10 years’ time?

LC        The legislation around school food has been around for quite some time.  What’s new is that Ofsted’s new Common Inspection Framework will now include observing pupils over lunchtime. They will go into the dining room and they will be looking to see that children will be able to accurately and confidently explain how to keep themselves healthy. Ofsted will note if the school observes the Whole School Approach. And this is where schools can do their bit to help  tackle the childhood obesity problem. One in five children are overweight or obese when they start school. That rises to one in three by the time they are at Year 6!

Schools have so much potential to inform and educate children about food. Let’s face it, it is where they spend so much of their time! This isn’t just about giving pupils something good to eat. It is about the food that’s served, the environment it is served in, the opportunities given to teach children about food, and teaching children how to eat well. It is all of those tools throughout the school day that are really going to have an impact on those figures I have just told you about.

EM       How can heads ensure they’re meeting those standards? What sort of problems will they face?

LC        The School Food Standards themselves are already legislation so there’s no choice in the matter there. The caterers and other experts will be doing their part in ensuring that those standards are being met. Ofsted are not inspecting the standards themselves, they are inspecting all of the other things that schools should do, for instance making sure that the food served to the children is good. The environment in which the food is served to them is likewise. That schools are giving children the opportunities to learn about food, and providing the complete educational part of it.

There’s a couple of things that you can do to show Ofsted what you’re doing. One of the great ways is to show that you are listening to your pupils. Set up a group of pupils who you talk to about school food; what they like, what they don’t like, what they would like to see being done differently, and listen to what they say and act upon it. You should be clear about the changes they can and can’t make. The school council is a great place to do this. I love going in and talking to them about food as they are very candid and they all have an opinion about school food. It’s also a very good way of chatting about things. I haven’t run into many situations where children haven’t come to me and said that “My favourite is fish and chips,” or something similar, “can we have that every day please?” Being able to discuss with them why that can’t happen is a really useful thing to do. They also have some really good ideas about what you can change on your menu. If you listen to them, they are the ones that are eating it and can help you out as to the best way to do the job.

There is lots of information as to how to meet the School Food Standards on our website and tips on how to check how you’re  doing.  If there’s a nursery attached to your school, make sure you are using the guidelines for feeding children under five as children under five have slightly different nutritional requirements. There’s lots of information, recipes, menus and tools to make your life easier. Keep talking to your caterer. It’s in their interest that their service is the best it can be.

EM       Are there any national awards that you run for school caterers?

LC        We have two sets of awards. One for caterers that is a menu checking service. Caterers can send their menus to us to make sure that they are meeting the School Food Standards.

We then have our awards for schools. We have the Good School Food Award and the Outstanding School Food Award.  Schools can apply for the Good School Food Award by showing that they have a good menu, but also that they have a food policy and a commitment to providing good school food.  After that they can apply for our Outstanding School Food Award if they can show us that they can meet quite a comprehensive set of criteria of food provision and practise. It’s not just about what’s on the plate; it’s about what they can do to demonstrate how they are supporting children’s health in their school.

We have a self-assessment form that shows schools what they could and should be doing.

EM       How do you recognise their success in this?

LC        You get the award itself. You get to use the logo on your school documentation. We will sing and shout about it in the press too. We name the schools that have won the awards on our website.

EM       This should help a school in its competition to attract pupils?

LC        Absolutely! It’s a very good way of showing to the parents your commitment to other aspects of their health and wellbeing. That’s what these awards are all about. The Good School Food Award shows that the schools are absolutely committed to what they are doing, and are on their journey. The Outstanding School Food Award is for schools that  are already doing a fantastic job – we come out and inspect them so we know they’re ticking every box.

EM       Do you think that the recent government announcement that all schools are to become academies will have an impact on their provision of food at school?

LC         I’m pleased at the government has recently said that all new academies have to adhere to the new school food legislation. In that way, no I don’t think it will have an impact on food.  I trust that academies will want to do their very best by their children and that they will want to give them the very best food and ensure that they will provide exactly the same food or better than they already have.

EM       Thanks for talking to Education Magazine.      

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