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School Meals

Volume 546: debated on Monday 18 June 2012

7. If he will review the guidance to academies and free schools to ensure they serve healthy food to their pupils. (111838)

Governing bodies will decide what food and drink are available at academies and free schools; we trust them to make the right choices for their pupils. Many academies use the school food standards as a benchmark and some are going beyond them, but, as in all schools, further improvement is still needed.

At the Education Select Committee on 24 April, I told the Secretary of State that many children at academies were being let down by the poor quality of school meals. He said:

“I fear that they may be, but I do not have any evidence that they have been. I am not denying that it is a possibility, but…until I know, I cannot see.”

The School Food Trust has now provided evidence showing that some academies do not provide the healthy food our children deserve, with vast numbers selling food and drink banned from other state schools. Now that there is evidence, will he apply the same rules to all state schools?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me what an open mind I showed in the face of his rigorous questioning. It is an open mind that is influenced by the facts, and, yes, the School Food Trust showed that some academies were not performing as well as they should, but many maintained schools are also not performing as well as they should, and there is no evidence that academies are performing worse at lunch time than other maintained schools.

I welcome the fact that 16 to 18-year-olds can still qualify for free school meals in academies and free schools, but they cannot in sixth-form colleges and further education colleges, which are the main provision in my area. When will the Secretary of State deal with this anomaly?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. It is an anomaly with which we wish to deal, and we are talking to the Association of Colleges about it. Resources are tight, but he is absolutely right to carry on campaigning.

On the disgraceful scrapping of nutritional standards for free schools and academies, health and education experts are calling for a U-turn; 98 Members, including Government Members, are calling for a U-turn; and even Jamie Oliver is calling for a U-turn. How many more calls for a U-turn and reams of evidence do the Government need to hear before they do the right thing, put evidence ahead of dogma and ensure that all children get the benefit of healthy school food?

The hon. Lady has been a consistent campaigner for the vital importance of health education in her schools, so I applaud her passion, as I do that of Jamie Oliver, but the facts show that there has been no deterioration in the quality of food offered in academies, and academies are not offering worse food at lunch time than other schools. All schools need to improve the quality of their food, and we will make an announcement shortly, not of a U-turn, but to build on the platform that Jamie Oliver has created.