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Schools: Meals

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 10 July 2008

I am pleased to announce that the School Food Trust, in partnership with LACA (Local Authority Caterers’ Association) has released provisional findings from the third annual survey of take-up of school meals, reporting on the 2007-08 financial year.

In primary schools take-up in 2007-08 was 43.6 per cent, an increase of 2.3 percentage points on the value reported for 2006-07 of 41.3 per cent.

In secondary schools, take-up in 2007-08 was 37.2 per cent, a decrease of 0.5 percentage points on the value reported for 2006-07 of 37.5 per cent.

The values reported for 2005-06 were 42.3 per cent in primary schools and 42.7 per cent in secondary schools.

These figures illustrate that the number of primary school children eating school meals rose by roughly 88,000 from 2006-07 to 2007-08. The number of secondary school pupils eating school meals fell by roughly 38,000 over the same period. This is partly explained by a 2 per cent drop in numbers of pupils on roll in secondary schools.

Average meal price in primary schools in 2007-08 was £1.66, compared to £1.63 reported for 2006-07, an increase of 1.8 per cent. Average ingredient costs were 61 pence per meal, 7 per cent higher than in 2006-07 (57 pence). Average labour costs were 1.08 per meal, very similar to the 1.09 reported for 2006-07.

In secondary schools, the average meal price is based on the value of a free school meal, which in 2007-08 was £1.78, compared to £1.72 reported for 2006-07, an increase of 3 per cent. Average ingredient and labour costs as a percentage of total service expenditure were 36.5 per cent and 48.6 per cent respectively.

Where take-up in schools had increased, local authorities believed the change to be related to (percentage given for primary and secondary services, respectively):

marketing of school meals to pupils (79 per cent, 70 per cent);

schools having food policies (74 per cent, 61 per cent);

marketing of school meals to parents (73 per cent, 48 per cent);

provision of more healthy options (59 per cent, 34 per cent); and

improvement in dining facilities (57 per cent, 48 per cent).

In addition, in relation to secondary school catering provision, 54 per cent of LAs said that reorganisation of arrangements for meals was important (eg shorter queues, changes in timetable), as was the introduction of a stay-on-site policy (56 per cent).

Where take-up in schools had decreased, local authorities believed the change to be related to (percentage given for primary and secondary services, respectively):

provision of more healthy options resulting in more children bringing packed lunches (74 per cent, 80 per cent);

parents providing packed lunches (64 per cent, 24 per cent);

increases in the price of a school meal due to inflation (56 per cent, 54 per cent);

increases in the price of a school meal due to use of better quality ingredients (55 per cent, 53 per cent); and

number of pupils buying school meals (47 per cent, 65 per cent).

In addition, in secondary schools, the main reason for a decline in take-up was pupils buying meals elsewhere in response to the provision of more healthy options (91 per cent). Shorter lunch hours were also seen as a deterrent (68 per cent), as was organisation of meal provision (62 per cent).

Future support for improving take-up

As part of our drive to improve school lunch provision, we announced in 2006, a new specific capital fund of £150 million in this spending review for authorities with the greatest need to build new kitchens in schools where currently there are none. Fifteen authorities submitted bids totalling some £46.9 million and I am now pleased to announce that all of those bids have been successful. This means that schools in West Sussex, Swindon, North-East Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire, North Somerset, Dorset, Wigan, Harrow, Hillingdon, Plymouth, Buckinghamshire, Bournemouth, Northamptonshire, Kingston upon Thames and Worcestershire will have new school kitchens over the next three years.

I am also pleased to announce that the remainder of this £150 million specific fund for school kitchens will be made available to all local authorities which submit plans to increase school lunch take-up by building or improving school kitchens and upgrading dining facilities and systems. This means that all authorities and schools will have the opportunity to improve school lunches and increase take-up through better preparation facilities and more attractive dining areas.

Finally, we have decided to provide the School Food Trust with an extra £6 million over the next three years to promote healthy food to young people and raise take-up. This is on top of the £21 million funding settlement the School Food Trust received in March.

School Lunch Take-up Figures

Background

The School Food Trust carries out a survey in April of each year to estimate the take-up of school meals nationally. The trust asks the catering officers in 150 local authorities (LAs) to provide information on take-up and highlight the factors that they believe have most influenced the change in take-up in the previous year. This year’s survey has been conducted in close collaboration with LACA (the Local Authority Caterers Association) and in consultation with other interested stakeholders.

To date, 105 responses have been received from local authorities. The figures quoted above are provisional, based on responses from 70 LAs covering school-meal provision in primary schools and responses from 59 LAs covering school-meal provision in secondary schools, as clarification of information is ongoing. A full report of the survey results will be published on the trust website in September 2008. The final report will include information nationally and by region on:

take-up of school meals;

changes in take-up between 2006-07 and 2007-08;

meal prices;

ingredient and labour costs;

factors felt to be responsible for changes in demand; and

kitchen facilities.

An interim report is available on the trust website at www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk.

Notes

Take-up has been calculated using the same method as in previous years.

Primary figures include primary schools and special schools.

Data reported here relate to schools with catering provided by the local authority, either through an in-house catering service or using an LA-contracted private contractor.

The Government announced a five-point plan for school food in September 2006, including a new specific capital fund for authorities with the greatest need to build new kitchens in schools where currently there is none.

Capital for Kitchens

Ministers last autumn agreed to provide £150 million of targeted funding in this spending review period to fund this commitment. The 15 successful local authorities are:

West Sussex: £5.744 million;

Swindon: £2 million;

North-East Lincolnshire: £3.424 million;

Lincolnshire: £4.416 million;

North Somerset: £2.128 million;

Dorset: £3.52 million;

Wigan: £2 million;

Harrow: £5.888 million;

Hillingdon: £1.8 million;

Plymouth: £1.456 million;

Buckinghamshire: £1.384 million;

Bournemouth: £608,000;

Northamptonshire: £5.5 million;

Kingston upon Thames: £752,000;

Worcestershire: £6.304 million.

The remainder of the £150 million fund will be made available to local authorities which submit plans to increase school lunch take-up by building or improving school kitchens and upgrading dining facilities and systems. Further details will be published in due course.