Posted on 1 December 2022
The UK government, as part of the Levelling-Up agenda, has advocated that all primary schools should develop a ‘whole school food policy’, which outlines how a school approaches food across the entire working day to support children in making healthy food choices.
The policy paper states that primary schools should produce a statement on their website that includes their commitment to food learning within the curriculum, as well as how children and stakeholders can get involved with decisions around food culture, and how the school maintains a consistently high quality food offering.
Researchers, supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and in partnership with the Department of Education, held several workshops with school leaders, teachers, caterers and parents, where they reported difficulties in understanding what is meant by a whole school food policy, and concerns around time pressures, staff training, and available funds.
The feedback from these workshops has informed the development of a new online resource, called CONNECTS-Food, which helps schools work out how well they are already doing at implementing their whole school approach to food, as well as provides templates for school leaders to use in drafting their food policy statements, and sets out key principles that they should follow to implement their ‘whole school’ approach. .
These principles, covering areas such as the priorities of school leaders, stakeholder engagement and pastoral care, will support schools in considering what may be feasible for them to implement in their school.
Professor Maria Bryant, from the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “Children consume a third of their food at school, providing an opportunity to promote healthy diets and reduce levels of obesity.
“It is the Government’s recommendation that schools adopt an approach to food linked to activities across the whole school day, but there is enormous pressure on schools at the moment, with recovery post-pandemic, and funding issues to contend with, so expecting school leaders to do even more, means that they need extra support to understand what is required of them.
“We hope that our online resource, which was built based on the workshops that we did with schools on this topic, will make the job of developing a food policy much quicker and easier.”
The research team has launched a pilot of the online tool and are now inviting schools to test the resources and provide feedback to help learn how helpful it is for schools and if it could be improved.
Research Associate, Wendy Burton, from the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “A whole school food policy is not just about school dinners, but how food is used in learning, how food is discussed, understanding food cultures, and who schools partner with to get the best quality produce, to list but a few.
“Primary Schools have come a long way in establishing healthy school meals, but with more that needs to be done at a time of considerable pressure for school leaders, we have to find ways to make change easier.
“Our online tool recognises all the good work that has already been done and breaks down what needs to be done next into more understandable and manageable tasks, with the interests of the current and future health of children at its heart.”
Researchers would like a selection of schools to take part in the pilot study,which involves a 45 minute Zoom interview to give feedback to the team on what they think of the CONNECTS-Food resource, and each school will receive £200 for participating, plus a free training session on how to develop a whole school approach to food using the new online resource.
For more information about taking part in the pilot email: [email protected]