Does your school have an external caterer?

To meet the food quality requirements of your Food for Life Award, schools with external (private or local authority) caterers will need their caterer to hold the Food for Life Catering Mark.

The Catering Mark award held by your caterer must be the same level, or higher than, the Food for Life award that you apply for – so to apply for your Food for Life silver award will need to check that your caterer holds the silver or gold Food for Life Catering Mark.

This does not apply to schools who have in-house catering arrangements or who either provide / have their meals provided by another school at a small scale (see below for more details).

On this page you'll find:

Why ask your Caterer to hold the Catering Mark?

  • The new School Food Standards are mandatory in all maintained schools and new academies and free schools. Governors at these schools are responsible for ensuring these are being met. The Catering Mark requires caterers to demonstrate compliance with those standards and verifies that caterers have these systems in place for meeting the standards.
  • Caterers who are accredited by Catering Mark are subject to an annual inspection, including on site visit, so we – and you - can be sure that your school food meets our award quality standards.
  • If your caterer holds Catering Mark, you’ll automatically check off all the criteria in the food quality section of the same award level which means that you don’t need to gather evidence and documentation at school level.

Do you provide / have your meals provided via a hub kitchen?
If you are a school which provides meal for other schools or you are a school that is provided by a hub kitchen, you will not require a Catering Mark if the hub school provides meals for five schools or less where the combined pupil roll for all those schools is no more than 1,500 pupils (excluding the hub school).

For example:

  • A hub school serving four schools with a combined pupil roll of 1,200 would not require a catering mark.
  • A hub school serving two schools with a combined pupil roll of 2,000 would require a catering mark.

What do we do next?

Check whether your Caterer already holds a Catering Mark
  • Look on Food for Life Catering Mark website where you can find more information and also look for caterers which hold the Catering Mark.
  • Contact your caterer to find out if they hold the Food for Life Catering Mark and if it covers meals served in your school. Please note you can ask to see the caterer’s schedule of certified sites in order to check whether your school meals are awarded.

If your caterer holds Catering Mark for your school let our awards team know and we’ll make sure the relevant criteria are checked off.

If your caterer holds Catering Mark, but not for your school, arrange a meeting with your Catering Manager to let them know that you are working towards your FFL award and would like them to extend the scope of their Catering Mark award to cover your school meals. See the Caterer section below for advice on how they can do that.

If your caterer holds Catering Mark, but not at the award level you would like to achieve, the Catering Mark team can support them to meet the higher level. This can be rolled out for all their schools, or for a selection of / individual schools. Please ask your caterer to get in touch with their local Catering Mark Development Manager.

If your caterer does not hold a Catering Mark:

  • If you are considering a change of caterer or renewing your contract, specify that they must hold Food for Life Catering Mark in the tender / contract.  We can provide some examples of how other schools have approached this.
  • If you already have a caterer in place, arrange to meet with your catering manager and pass on information on the Catering Mark, which you’ll find here. You can also provide them with the information for caterers on this page.
  • Get in touch with FFL and let us know the name of your caterer.  We can pass these details to our Catering Mark team who will get in touch with your caterer and explain what they will need to do to achieve the award.
  • Highlight benefits of Catering Mark to them – you can find these here. Your caterer can also have a look at the Catering Mark FAQs to answer any initial questions they may have.
  • Agree timescales and award levels – Caterers should allow six weeks for the application process to accommodate the application inspection and any actions raised.
  • Ask your caterer to let you know how they are getting on, for example: when their Catering Mark inspection is due to take place, and any actions that arise after inspection. Their Catering Mark will be awarded as soon as they have completed these actions – so ask them to keep you posted!
  • Let them know how this will be part of your wider FFL work and highlight how this supports increased school meal take up. You can find more about that here.

What support is available to help your caterer achieve Catering Mark?

If your caterer is already a Catering Mark holder but not for your school, it is very simple for them to extend their award to your school. All they need to do is to get in touch with their Catering Mark Certification Officer, who will talk them through the process. They will need to supply their Certification Officer with the following information:

  • A list of the schools they would like to add, and their locations (this may be just your school, or several schools)
  • The date when they will be serving Catering Mark menus to your school
  • Any differences in the new menus.

If they are not sure who your Certification Officer is, they can call 0117 914 2411 or email

If your caterer is not a Catering Mark holder, ask them to get in touch with their regional Catering Mark Development Manager and arrange a meeting. This meeting with help assess where they are now and what they may need to do to achieve a Catering Mark. The Development Managers are there to provide caterers with practical advice and support as they work towards accreditation.

There are many benefits to holding the catering mark, not least that it verifies the meals served meet the new School Food Standards. You’ll find a list of these benefits here. You will also find a list of Frequently Asked Questions here.

Once your caterer has achieved their award, the Catering Mark team will work with them to communicate their achievement to a wider audience, including local press.

If you need any further information or help, please contact our awards team on 0117 314 5180 or email

Food for Life Catering Mark

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Whether you’re just looking for fresh ideas or your school wants to demonstrate that you’re serving up both fantastic food and imaginative food education, we have a schools package for you. 

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