AMs demand concrete chips & soggy semolina are banished from school menus

(Title Image: Llanelli Herald)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Believes healthy school meals can make an essential contribution to pupils’ wellbeing, attainment, and positive behaviour.
  • Notes a Children’s Commissioner’s report provides worrying evidence that a significant number of pupils are not getting their entitlement set out in the healthy school meals guidance.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to: clarify whether school meal standards are the responsibility of governors, local authorities or the Welsh Government and what action is being taken to ensure they’re being monitored; outline what action is being taken to increase the amount of locally-sourced school food.

Where’s our ambition?

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) started off in a positive tone. Two years ago, she visited Cornist Park Primary School in Flintshire  – the only local authority in Wales to achieve Soil Association “Food for Life” certification, meaning it has high standards for food quality: no additives, one-quarter of all food has to be freshly prepared and suppliers have to meet animal and marine welfare standards.

Every child chooses their meal at registration, the cook has skills to meet healthy meal guidelines and family members are invited in to join them for lunch once a month. This Flintshire example has to be something the rest of Wales can learn from, as well as Oldham:

“The most ambitious school caterers….have gone further to achieve the gold standard: at least 20% of the money spent on ingredients has to be organic, including organic meat. ‘Oh, that’s unaffordable’, I hear people say. No, it’s not; they still only spend 67p per-pupil per-meal….Research into these Food for Life menus proves that for every £1 spent locally, it delivers a social return on investment of over £3 in the form of increased jobs and markets for local food producers.”
– Jenny Rathbone AM

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), suggested many schools were bending the healthy meal guidance; “you still can get a cookie the size of your head, so long as it’s full of raisins rather than chocolate”. She believed Finland was one to emulate, where children fill up their own plates but are encouraged to use a sample plate to get an idea of how to balance the food. There’s no “slopping stuff into plastic trays” and the food must be well presented and at a minimum temperature.

“Children will attend school in the morning having not eaten properly since their school meal the day before. This is not bad parenting, this is poverty, the result of austerity and the cruelty of universal credit….By improving school meals, we are not only providing important nutritional assistance, but we are also helping kids to be better equipped to feed their minds and learn.”
– Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) reflected on the increase in vegetarianism and veganism amongst young people; plant-based options should be on school menus by default, not by request. Plant-based meals could also provide opportunities for children to grow some of their own food in school gardens (which some schools already do).

Minister will consider updating health school guidance

Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), was in no doubt healthy school meals can help behaviour and attainment, but there remain challenges – such as one in four children starting primary school being overweight or obese and general declines in physical activity.

While she was willing to update school meal guidelines, ultimately it was the responsibility of councils and governing bodies to ensure guidelines are stuck to:

“But let me be clear: local authorities and governing bodies are responsible for complying with the regulations, and anyone involved in providing food and drink in maintained schools should be aware of the statutory requirements….Local authorities are responsible for the procurement of food in schools, and current legislation on procurement already allows schools and local authorities to procure Welsh produce, but it doesn’t impose a requirement to do so.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

The government was also committed to supporting free school breakfast schemes and the Minister said free and easy access to drinking water was “non-negotiable”.

The motion was unanimously approved.

  • 13