Ditching Turkey Twizzlers improves results and behaviour
Schools minister Sarah Teather was a keynote speaker at a conference celebrating a project which has proved the link between healthy schools meals and academic achievement and improved behaviour. The conference heard how the Food for Life Partnership project, which has put healthy food on the plates of schoolchildren and connected them with the source of that food and the environment, has transformed the 3,800 schools which have taken part.
Celebrity chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver, is one of the project’s biggest fans. He said: "I am massively encouraged by the success of the Food for Life Partnership. This evidence proves what the best teachers know – that food education and school meals doesn’t just have a big impact on kids’ health, it also helps them to concentrate and succeed in school. The FFLP is doing an amazing job making sure that no kid leaves school unable to cook and unsure where their food comes from."
At the conference, jointly hosted by the FFLP and Faculty of Public Health, and chaired by the Food Programme's Sheila Dillon, Dr Judy Orme, presented evidence from an independent evaluation from the University of the West of England and Cardiff University. This showed that: More than twice as many FFLP primary schools received an Ofsted rating of outstanding following their participation (37.2% compared to 17.3% outstanding pre-enrolment). Headteachers reported a positive impact on pupil behaviour, attention and attainment.
The programme is associated with changes in eating habits, with an increase in the proportion of primary school-age children reporting eating five portions of fruit or vegetables a day of 28%. And 45 per cent of parents said the family is eating more vegetables, with 43 per cent switching to healthier and more sustainable choices in the shopping basket. Disadvantaged pupils are benefitting: over a two-year period, free school meal take-up went up 13 percentage points in FFLP schools, 20.9 percentage points in secondary schools, and by 21 percentage points across the board in schools achieving our Silver or Gold award. Nationally, over 20% of primary school pupils and 30% of secondary school pupils eligible for healthy free school meals choose not to eat them for reasons including fear of stigma and the lure of fast food outlets. Inspectors have recognised the positive role of FFLP in supporting personal development and wellbeing: 67.1 per cent of schools felt the programme had a clear impact on their Ofsted report in terms of pupils’ personal development and well-being.
Further research from the new economics foundation found in pilot studies in Nottinghamshire and Plymouth that sourcing school meals locally can mean a return of £3 for every £1 invested in the local economy. An additional study by the National Foundation for Educational Research in to 15 schools provides a qualitative insight into the implementation and outcomes of the FFLP. For a summary of the three independent evaluation studies see the new report 'Good for all: The Impact of the Food for Life Partnership' launched at today's conference. Libby Grundy, director of the FFLP, said: “The UK already has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe, with almost a quarter of adults and about one in ten children classed as obese and a further 20-25 per cent of children overweight. The UWE evidence shows that our programme has made a positive difference to improving diet and this is in turn is having a knock on effect on behaviour and attainment. Yet, just as the programme looks as if it has reached the tipping point in terms of making a cultural shift, cuts to local authority school meal budgets – and an uncertain funding future for the FFLP programme itself – could undo all the good work.”
Professor Kevin Morgan, of Cardiff University's School of City and Regional Planning who was part of the research team said:�“Jamie Oliver deserves credit for putting school food back on the political agenda. However, the most ambitious programme in the UK to date has been the Food for Life Partnership, which champions a whole-school approach and is working with 3,800 schools in England to enable children to eat good food, learn where it comes from, how it is produced, and how to grow it and cook it themselves.”
Monty Don, presenter of Gardeners’ World and president of the Soil Association said: “The children in FFLP schools not only eat good food, they also learn where it comes from, how it is produced and how to grow and cook it. Mealtimes are transformed into more positive social experiences in which pupils can sit down to eat together and learn better manners and conversation skills.”
Helen Kersley, head of nef’s Valuing What Matters Programme, said: “In terms of local economic benefits alone investment in procurement of local, seasonal food for school meals gives a positive return in our case study areas. Add to this the health education and cultural benefits to pupils and the returns can be expected to be much greater still. Local suppliers were clear that delivering ingredients for local school meals offered major benefits to them and their employees in terms of security and opportunities. They valued the sense of contributing directly to the local economy and community.”
Martin Kane, deputy head Holly Lodge Girls’ College in West Derby, Liverpool, said: “By re-structuring lunchtimes, serving better quality food and improving the total dining experience we have seen a substantial decline in the incidences of poor behaviour in the afternoon and this in turn has had an impact on academic achievement. Last year the number of A*-C at Grade C & above including English & maths was 34%. This year it increased to 51%. Similarly, 59% of students gained 5 A*-C at Grade C and above compared to 86% this year.”
 The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture. Together we are revolutionising schools meals, reconnecting young people with farms and inspiring families to cook and grow food. The initiative is funded by the Big Lottery Fund until December 2011 and led by the Soil Association, bringing together the practical expertise of the Focus on Food Campaign, Garden Organic and the Health Education Trust. The Soil Association is the UK's leading environmental charity promoting sustainable, organic farming and championing human health. The Focus on Food Campaign is the leading food education support programme for the teaching of cooking in the UK’s primary and secondary schools. Garden Organic is the UK’s leading organic growing charity dedicated to researching and promoting organic gardening, farming and food. The Health Education Trust is the national charity dedicated to initiating and supporting work with children and young adults to encourage the growth of healthy lifestyles. To join the Food for Life Partnership or find out more, check http://www.foodforlife.org.uk
 Schools in the Food for Life Partnership award scheme are rewarded for a whole school approach that includes food education, food quality & provenance and food culture & community involvement. The Food for Life Catering Mark is a Soil Association accreditation scheme that provides a widely recognised benchmark for catering that puts quality first. Caterers source ethical and environmentally sustainable food, champion local food producers and make it easier for people to eat healthily. The Catering Mark’s Bronze, Silver and Gold awards offer stepping stones for continuous improvement.
 Food for Life Partnership schools get access to training in how to teach cooking and lead food growing in school, and how to source local and organic food and take groups of pupils to farms. They are supported by a range of resources on the website at http://www.foodforlife.org.uk and their achievements are celebrated at award ceremonies around the country.
 The FFLP's website has a range of resources for schools to help them reach these goals. Schools are also encouraged to visit farms to learn more about food production.
 According to a recent survey of more than 80 local authorities, the price of a school meal has jumped by 10 per cent this year. The cost of a school dinner is now almost £2.
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