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The government has missed a key opportunity to support food education

The government has missed a key opportunity to support food education

By Headteacher and TastEd co-founder, Dr Jason O’Rourke

We are disappointed by the lacklustre government response to the National Food Strategy.  You can read our full response and recommendations to government here.

Last week, the Financial Times released a piece about the struggle school food caterers are facing as the cost of living starts to truly bite, including data from our recent survey of how school caterers are managing these challenges.

And now, we are hearing more from teachers on the ground, experiencing the reality of children’s health and wellbeing in schools, and the lack of government directive in this area.

Dr Jason O’Rourke is Headteacher at Washingborough Academy, a Gold awarded Food for Life school and co-founder of TastEd. He shares his views with Food for Life.

A notable missed opportunity

The government response to the National Food Strategy on 13th June 2022 was a huge disappointment.

As childhood obesity rates increase[1],  the government has missed an incredible opportunity to make long term change towards healthy eating habits, starting from an early age.

With the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, the white paper was the opportune moment to fully support the health of the future generation. This moment has been lost.

Clear support and encouragement are what schools need to embed an effective and wide-ranging food education within their teaching and learning curriculum.

The reality

The white paper proposes that as food is already on the curriculum, students are currently in receipt of high-quality teaching on the importance of healthy eating and nutrition.  This is not the entire picture.

An independent review in 2017 found that there are stark differences between an effective food education curriculum and actual delivery of that curriculum. Strains on time, resources and support pose real challenges to some schools. Even though the government dedicated £5 million to kick start a ‘school cooking revolution’ this hardly makes a difference in real terms and some schools will still struggle to overcome the challenges.

My questions to the government

Why does the Government Food Strategy not include the recommendation made in the National Food Strategy Independent Review for sensory food education for the early years? A child's relationship with food begins to be formed at a very young age.

Why are there no strong recommendations for adoption of a whole school approach framework, such as that offered by the Soil Association’s Food for Life programme?

Asking schools to write what they are doing on the school website is not the same as truly embedding food in a whole school approach.

A focus on a whole school approach to food education makes a school more interconnected and has the potential to extend further – with far reaching benefits to both the children's academic and health outcomes, as well as the community.

A whole school approach can have a long-lasting impact on children’s health, their positive relationship with fruit and vegetables and make inroads into escaping from the ‘Junk Food’ trap, thereby protecting the NHS.

What is needed

An effective government food education policy should incorporate learning about food in its broader context, including the social, cultural, political, environmental, aesthetic and sustainable benefits of food. As a result, schools could provide learning opportunities that extend beyond the narrow bio-pedagogical focus that food education currently occupies and could support key areas such as understanding social inequalities.

Join the movement

For more information about the Food for Life Schools Award and a whole school approach, visit our Schools pages, or email Gay Darke: GDarke@soilassociaion.org

[1] “The percentage of children with obesity in their first year of school has risen by nearly 50% in one year,  affecting twice as many children in the most deprived fifth compared with the least deprived fifth.” The Broken Plate Report 2022, Food Foundation, https://foodfoundation.org.uk/initiatives/broken-plate


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