News story

New powers for schools to beat the takeaways

Schools will now be able to take on the takeaways with special meal deals to boost uptake of school lunches and tackle obesity.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Under new powers, schools will be able to offer price promotions on meals to particular pupils, encouraging more children to try a healthy school lunch.

Takeaways frequently target school pupils by tempting them with cheap lunchtime deals. Previously schools were unable to do so and had to charge the same price for the same item for every pupil, unless they applied for special permission from the Government.

The new, voluntary rules will mean schools can target pupils not eating school lunches or where uptake traditionally drops off, such at the start of secondary school. For example, schools may choose to offer:

  • £1 meal deals for pupils starting a new school to get them into the canteen
  • special prices for siblings regularly eating school lunches - helping families afford healthy food
  • cut price meals for a different year group each day to encourage them choose healthy school meals regularly.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said:

School meals beat takeaways hands down on the quality of food they serve, but up until now they have struggled to compete on price. Getting children into the school canteen is vital - the benefits of healthy school meals are clear. These new powers are an important step in tackling childhood obesity, and will mean schools can help hard-pressed families.

No longer will schools be tied by complicated red tape, instead they will be able to use their initiative to increase take up of school meals. Already we’ve seen some great examples of pioneering schools keen to offer special deals - now others across the country will be able to follow suit.

Judy Hargadon, Chief Executive of the Children’s Food Trust and the School Food Trust said:

When children eat better, they do better - which is why we want to see more children able to have a healthy school meal every day, and why it’s in the interests of schools to do everything they can to boost take up. Keeping meals affordable is a crucial part of this, and many parents have told us that they’d be more likely to try school meals for their child if they were on offer at a discount.

Price promotions do increase take up in the long-term so while a school wanting to run a really big promotion will have to invest to cover the cost, it will pay back a big return. Even on a much smaller scale, we know that many schools are keen to help families who don’t qualify for free school meals but might be struggling to find money for lunches every day. We’re particularly keen to test out how these powers can help larger families with the costs of school meals and will also be producing a guide to using the new legislation for all schools next year.

The latest annual school food survey showed that, while the uptake of school lunches has increased across the board, there is a drop off of 6.5 percentage points between primary and secondary school.

Research earlier this year by the School Food Trust showed that almost 6 out of 10 parents were keen to switch to school meals if they were offered price promotions.

The changes are part of the Education Act 2011, and will come into force next year. The Act safeguards pupils not included in a special offer by preventing the school from charging more than the cost of providing the meal. Use of flexible charging is entirely optional and will involve a local decision to subsidise meals during the offer period.

Notes to editors

  1. Previously, a school or local authority had to apply to the Secretary of State for a ‘Power to Innovate’ [under section 2 of the Education Act 2002] suspending the statutory requirement to charge every pupil the same price for the same quantity of the same item. Case studies: * During a free school meal offer in Bolton made under the Power to Innovate, the take-up levels increased to record levels of 86% for the targeted year group, 37.5% higher than the average take-up in all year groups in Bolton primary schools. Their subsequent £1 meal deal produced a 69.9% take up, which was 21.4% higher than the norm. Bolton’s initiatives also produced a significant increase in statutory free meal take up. * North Yorkshire County Council operated a two-tier meal charge in primary schools for a limited period, with a lower charge (£1.80 instead of £2.00) for siblings where more than one child from a family was regularly taking a meal at school. This was a popular innovation with around 16% of all paid meals attracting a discount, thus helping to increase take up and thereby the financial viability of the service. * Gateshead offered five days of free lunch for all reception pupils starting classes in September 2008. * As part of its main catering contract Ealing provide free school meals to all of its reception children for a week. * Brent ran a free meals pilot in 3 schools in 2006/07 and expanded this to 6 schools in 2007/08. In each school a year group in Key Stage 1 was offered a free school meal for a week. It was left to the schools to decide which year to target. This resulted in an increased uptake of school meals of 6% between February 07 and February 08.

  2. The latest annual survey of school food (2010-11) showed that take up of school lunches was 44.1% in primary schools and 37.6% in secondary schools. This represented an increase over 2009-2010 of 2.7 percentage points in the primary sector and 1.8 percentage points in the secondary sector. This equates to about 173,000 more pupils taking school lunch in 2010-2011.

  3. Research from the School Food Trust in September 2011, showed that 58% of parents in the survey whose children didn’t already have a school lunch said they would be willing to sign up to try school meals in September 2011, if meals were offered at a reduced price.

  4. The Education Act 2011 (section 35) is available on the Parliament website.

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Published 29 December 2011