Last reviewed 2 September 2016

The Government has updated its guidance for governing bodies in England on the provision of school food.

Martin Hodgson, a school governor for over 10 years, looks at the requirements.

What does the guidance cover?

School Food in England — Departmental Advice for Governing Boards was published by the Department for Education (DfE) in July 2016.

The document represents updated guidance written for the governing bodies of:

  • local-authority-maintained schools

  • pupil referral units

  • academies that opened before 2010

  • academies and free schools with agreed funding from June 2014

  • non-maintained special schools.

The guidance includes information on:

  • the planning and provision of school food

  • the school food plan

  • the provision of milk

  • the free fruit and vegetables scheme.

What are the statutory responsibilities on governors?

The guidance sets out the statutory responsibilities of school governors.

Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014, school governors are legally responsible for the provision and quality of school food. To comply with this duty they must ensure that:

  • a school lunch is provided for pupils where a meal is requested and either the pupil is eligible for free school lunches or it would not be unreasonable for lunches to be provided

  • school meals are provided free of charge if a pupil and/or a parent meets eligibility criteria set out within the Education Act 1996 and a request is received for free meals to be provided either by the pupil or someone acting on the pupil’s behalf

  • drinking water is provided free of charge at all times

  • facilities are provided free of charge for pupils not taking school meals to eat the food that they bring to school.

In addition to the above, the guidance reminds governors that, from September 2014, every child in reception, year 1 and year 2 in state-funded schools is entitled to a free school lunch.

The guidance states that governing boards are able to decide the form that school lunches take. However, they must ensure that the lunches and other food and drink provided meet the appropriate standards.

Although there is no legal requirement for lunches to be hot meals, the guidance states that hot lunches should be provided wherever possible to ensure that all pupils are able to eat at least one hot meal every day. It also states that the minimum facilities provided must include accommodation, furniture and supervision so that pupils can eat food they have brought from home in a “safe and social” environment.

What are the school food standards?

Revised standards for school food are set out in the School Food Regulations 2014. Governors have a statutory duty to ensure these are fully implemented.

The revised standards came into force in January 2015. They require governors to:

  • ensure that food provided to pupils in school is nutritious and of high quality

  • promote good nutritional health in all pupils

  • protect those who are nutritionally vulnerable and

  • promote good eating behaviour.

The regulations apply to school lunches provided to registered pupils, whether on the school premises or not, and to any other person on the school premises. They also apply to food and drink other than lunch provided to pupils on and off school premises up to 6pm, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops, mid-morning break, vending and after school clubs.

A summary of the standards, a practical guide to implementation, a checklist for Heads and a set of training resources are available from the School Food Plan website.

What are the requirements for the provision of milk and vegetables?

The guidance refers to the requirement in the school food standards for lower fat milk or lactose-reduced milk to be available for drinking at least once a day during school hours.

Governors must ensure that milk is provided free of charge to infant and benefits-based free school meals pupils when it is offered as part of their school meal and free to benefits-based free school meals pupils at all other times.

The guidance confirms that charges can be made for all other pupils. It also states that whole milk can be provided for pupils up to the end of the school year in which they reach age 5. After that milk must be lower fat or lactose-reduced.

To assist with the cost of providing milk, the guidance reminds governing boards that they can take part in the EU School Milk Subsidy Scheme and the Department of Health Nursery Milk Scheme.

Under the EU scheme, eligible pupils may receive up to 250ml of subsidised milk products each school day. The EU aid rate is €186.945 per kilolitre for milk and yoghurt. Further details can be found on the GOV.UK website.

The Nursery Milk Scheme enables children under five to receive free of charge 189ml (1/3 pint) of milk for each day they attend approved day care facilities for two hours or more. Babies aged under 12 months may instead receive dried baby milk made up to 189ml (1/3 pint).

The guidance states that, under the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme, four- to six-year-old children in state-funded infant, primary and special schools throughout England are eligible to receive a free piece of fruit or vegetable every school day outside of their school lunch.

What is the exact role of school governors in meeting the requirements?

School Food in England states that the governing board is responsible for ensuring that the national school food standards are met but how this is carried out is up to them and depends on the catering arrangements they put in place within the school.

The guidance states that:

  • where food is provided by the local authority or a private caterer, the governing board should ensure that compliance with the school food standards is specified within the catering contract or service level agreement

  • caterers should provide the governing board with evidence of compliance with the standards

  • if the school provides food itself then it should evaluate its food and drink provision against the standards, and produce evidence of compliance

  • the governing board should ensure there is a process in place to ensure that catering services are co-ordinated across all school food and drink outlets

  • the governing board should ensure it receives regular reports on compliance with the school food standards as well as take-up of school lunches and financial aspects of school food provision.

Governing boards are strongly encouraged by the DfE guidance to work with the senior leadership team of a school to develop a whole school food policy, setting out the school’s approach to:

  • its provision of food

  • food education (including practical cooking)

  • the role of the catering team as part of the wider school team

  • the school’s strategy to increase the take-up of school lunches.

Are there any exemptions?

A list of exemptions are included in the guidance. Governing bodies should be aware that the School Food Regulations do not apply to food:

  • provided at parties or celebrations to mark religious or cultural occasions

  • served at fund-raising events

  • provided as rewards for achievement, good behaviour or effort

  • used in teaching food preparation and cookery skills

  • on an occasional basis by parents or pupils.

Further information

School Food in England can be downloaded from the GOV.UK website.