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School Meals in Scotland

UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document by the Expert Panel on School Meals:

Hungry for Success. A Whole School Approach to School Meals in Scotland

October 2002

Executive Summary

UNISON Scotland supported the recent School Meals (Scotland) Bill. We strongly believed that the bill tackled poverty and social exclusion, provided a welfare service free at the point of use, addressed poor nutrition standards in Scotland and related health problems, and a whole range of socio-economic and behavioural issues.

Given that the Bill was not supported by the Scottish Parliament, we are pleased to now offer comments on the consultation document by the Expert Panel on School Meals.

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the proposals to establish nutritional standards for school meals.
  • We believe that school meals staff have critical roles to play in the development of the school meals system. Catering staff are delivering a frontline service, interacting and working with pupils, and have a great understanding of the system and its potential.
  • We welcome the proposals for training and development opportunities. However, it is important that training and career development is reflected in the pay and conditions of school meals staff, and that trade unions are fully involved in these processes.
  • Pupils, teachers and parents also have important roles in the development of schools meals. It is welcome to see their roles acknowledged by the Expert Panel.
  • UNISON supports the proposals to improve and develop the overall lunchtime experience for pupils, school meals staff and teachers. It is right that school lunch breaks should be part of the learning experience and as enjoyable and productive as possible.
  • However, UNISON is aware that the limits of PFI/PPPs and a restrictive interpretation of Best Value could prevent many of the changes and proposal advocated by the Expert Panel.
  • We believe that school meals are an integral part of the learning experience, and give us the opportunity to address issues of health, nutrition, poverty and social exclusion.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to comment on Hungry for Success: A Whole School Approach to School Meals in Scotland, the consultation document by the Expert Panel on School Meals. UNISON is the largest trade union in Scotland, with over 140,000 members working in a range of public services. We have members who are currently involved in delivering school meals in Scotland's schools. As a trade union which takes a holistic approach to representing our members and their families, we have a keen interest in a service that has the potential to address issues of health, nutrition, poverty and social exclusion.

Questionnaire Responses

  1. Scottish Nutrient Standards for School Lunches
  2. UNISON Scotland agrees that nutritional standards for school meals should be established and adopted. However, we do not understand why there should be a delay until December 2004 for all primary and special schools, and December 2006 for all secondary schools, for such standards to be in place. Instead UNISON Scotland would recommend that nutritional standards should be developed and adopted for all schools as soon as is feasible. We would suggest December 2003 as an appropriate date, giving over twelve months for education authorities and schools to implement these standards.

    In our submission to the Education Committee on the recent School Meals (Scotland) Bill, UNISON set out our support for the introduction of nutritional standards for school meals. Scotland's reputation as the sick-man of Europe is well known, along with Glasgow's as the heart-attack capital. UNISON very much supports the Executive's initiatives to turn around Scotland's health problems. We believe that the provision of a nutritious meal for all children is intrinsic to strategies to improve public health.

    UNISON concluded that the current state of Scotland's diet, particularly for young people, is so dire, that urgent action is required. We are gravely concerned at the inevitable health consequences that this will have on the Scottish population in later life, along with the socio-economic implications of an unhealthy nation on employment, GDP, the NHS, an ageing population and on other social provisions. We believe that the most appropriate way of addressing the appalling Scottish diet and its legacy is to provide healthy and nutritious food to young people. The simplest and most obvious way to do this, is the provision of a nutritious free school meal. However, given the Executive's opposition to the introduction of nutritious free school meals, we believe that it should at least ensure that those who are consuming school meals are being fed nutritional food.

    UNISON believes that within the definition of nutrition should be included the requirement for milk and water to be made available to accompany the meal. It is important to promote milk as an alternative to carbonated and sugary drinks, to develop healthy bones in children as they are growing and in later life.

    UNISON supported the Scottish Executive's move last year to establish an expert panel to devise national nutritional standards, improve the appeal of school meals and maximise the uptake of free school meals. However we were extremely disappointed that the Expert Panel did not include representation from trade unions (representing educational and support staff), nor pupils themselves. It is essential that those at the front line in delivering the meals, educating pupils, and the pupils consuming the food, should be involved in consultations on what is "nutritious" and likely to appeal.


  3. Promotion of food and drink with high fat or sugar content
  4. UNISON believes that school meal facilities should not promote food or drink with a high fat content at all. The provision of a nutritious meal could work to counter the mass marketing and advertising campaigns children are constantly bombarded with on TV, in local shops, magazines and billboards. It is important that children are aware of alternative wholesome and tasty foods, to burgers, confectionery, sugary cereals, crisps and fizzy drinks, which tend to be aggressively promoted to young people. UNISON concludes that the issue of all food in schools, including vending machines tuck shops and breakfast clubs, must be debated with the impact of sponsorship and advertising carefully considered.


  5. Labelling food
  6. UNISON Scotland believes that caterers should label food appropriately to inform and assist pupils to make choices regarding the food they consume. There should be a basic level of food labelling to assist pupils with particular dietary requirements (vegetarians, vegans, pupils with nut / wheat / milk allergies, or those with cultural dietary needs).

    Caterers should also consider the need to provide information on the nutritional value of meals available. UNISON welcomes the suggestions to make nutritional labelling simpler such as: the use of menu boards, colour coding for packaged foods, or a pre-ordering service.


  7. Presentation, marketing and pricing structures to incentivise healthier choices
  8. UNISON welcomes the recommendation that schools, education authorities and caterers encourage healthier choices at school. This could be done by ensuring meals do look attractive and appealing, and are tasty and enjoyable.

    We agree that prices should encourage healthy choices. One of the reasons that UNISON Scotland was supportive of the School Meals (Scotland) Bill was because of our own experiences and research on pricing of school meals. UNISON's study of school meals *, published March 2002, found that the price of school meals across the UK has risen faster than inflation, which clearly impacts upon take up of meals. The price of school meals increased by 5.6% in primary schools and 3.6% in secondary schools over the past six years, whilst inflation increased by only 1.7%. Although a UK-wide survey, the report revealed important statistics on Scottish schools. School meal prices were the highest in Edinburgh at £1.85 (secondary) and £1.65 (primary), and in secondary schools in Aberdeenshire (£1.70) and primary schools in North Ayrshire (£1.50). Other Scottish authorities are able to provide meals at much lower prices: Dumfries and Galloway meals are 95p (primary) and £1.00 (secondary), and in Glasgow £1.10 (primary and secondary).

    Due to the wide variation in price UNISON Scotland supported the provision of free school meals for all pupils to ensure decent food is available to all children, regardless of which local authority they are in or ability to pay. Given that the Executive has indicated that it is not going to implement such a policy, we do agree that schools, education authorities and caterers should consider presentation of food, promoting and pricing healthy and nutritional food to encourage greater take up. However, we are wary of the aggressive "marketing" of any products in schools. Rather we should provide for information on food content being provided to children through school lessons, personal development and education, to encourage and support pupils to make healthy choices for themselves.


  9. Links between learning and eating in the curriculum and food provision
  10. UNISON supports the recommendation that all schools review their current practice in establishing links between learning and teaching on healthy eating in the curriculum and food provision in schools. It is important that links are established in both primary and secondary schools, and are done in a way which fully involves pupils, does not patronise them but allows them to learn about health and nutrition and make informed choices. Schools may also want to consider addressing the issues of eating disorders and obesity, to make young people more aware of these diseases, and address their own issues of personal identity and self esteem.


  11. Refurbishment of dining room
  12. UNISON agrees that pupils should feel more positive about their dining environment and that addressing this issue should be a priority for authorities when reviewing their school estate. Given that so many Scottish local authorities are reviewing their school buildings and opting to refurbish or rebuild schools through PPP / PFIs, this is an area that should be addressed.

    UNISON does however recognise that the dining environment will not be a priority in PFI schemes. Our experience is of local authorities, schools and parents in reality having little control over the final design of schools, given that contractors can change proposals from the outline business case to the final business case. We are also aware that improving dining environments will cost money, whilst PFIs contractors are keen to reduce costs where possible. Given these circumstances it is unlikely that dining rooms will be considered a priority.

    The comments from the representatives from Glasgow City Council's Direct and Care Services on dining facilities to the Education Committee during the School Meals (Scotland) Bill inquiry were interesting, and indicate the type of difficulties many local authorities will face. The Education Committee were told that Glasgow schools were already well into the 30 year PFI contract for their schools programme, and to make changes to plans at this stage would be impossible or incur substantial costs. This indicates the difficulties local authorities will face on altering their dining facilities.


  13. Separate area for dining
  14. We agree that whenever possible that there should be a separate area for dining, but as we've noted above in PFI schemes cost is a prime motivator, and it is unlikely that priority will be given to providing separate dining areas.

    UNISON's experiences of PFI schools has been of reducing classroom sizes, cutting facilities for leisure and sport, so it seems doubtful that there will be a move towards separate purpose-built dining areas.


  15. Structure of the school day
  16. UNISON supports the principle of staggered lunch breaks so as all pupils can enjoy their lunch in comfort. When considering the structure of the school day the lunchtime experience should be examined and taken into consideration.


  17. Seating and queuing arrangements
  18. We agree that schools should make the whole dining experience as pleasurable as possible. Effort should be made to get away from the regimented nature of queuing, sitting at long tables, etc.. Schools should be encouraged to review seating and queuing arrangements to make them as relaxed and accessible as possible. Measures to do this including staggered lunch-breaks and alleviating queuing should be supported.


  19. Dining / paying / ordering meals arrangements
  20. UNISON welcomes the recommendations of the panel to introduce multiple service points, more cash points in cash cafeterias, staggered arrivals, pre-ordering facilities, separate counters for pre-ordered meals, delivery of pre-ordered meals.



  21. Classroom assistants / dining room assistants to supervise in dining rooms
  22. Education authorities should consider deploying classroom assistants and dining room assistants to undertake a supervisory role in dining rooms. UNISON agrees that individuals with specific responsibility for supervision should be employed for the lunch breaks to enable catering staff to focus on their role in delivering food.


  23. Support and endorsement of senior managers
  24. Senior management within schools should support and endorse their school meal provision. However, school meals have to be tasty, nutritious and appealing so as senior managers - and pupils - are happy to consume them.


  25. Delivering special needs
  26. UNISON agrees that education authorities should develop a policy for delivering, in partnership with parents and carers, medically prescribed diets, and appropriate provision for children with special educational needs. It is important to include caterers and school meals staff in this process.


  27. Increasing take up for free school meals
  28. Increasing the take-up of free school meals was one of the key reasons that UNISON supported the recent School Meals (Scotland) Bill. We recognised the issue of stigma attached to the current provision of free school meals, and we are still convinced that providing free school meals to all pupils would be the most effective way of removing stigma, and achieving the broad policy aims on nutrition, health and social behaviour. We do feel that the next best step would be to explore ways of eliminating stigma through swipe cards, etc. However, during the consultation on the School Meals Bill there was substantial evidence to illustrate that swipe cards do not eliminate stigma as it is still possible to identify those on free meals due to the limited amounts they have to spend.


  29. Smart cards
  30. As noted in point 14, it is still possible to identify those receiving free meals in swipe card systems, as pupils are restricted in the choices they can make due to the limited money on their cards. UNISON believes action needs to be taken to ensure that it is possible for a child in receipt of free meals to purchase a healthy and nutritious meal. There should be regular monitoring of prices and affordability, and calculations on what it is possible to purchase on a limited budget. We agree that it is worth exploring the feasibility of multiple purpose cards, for registration, library and other uses, but again recognise the considerable expense of such card systems.


  31. Card validators
  32. Education authorities should ensure that there are sufficient card validation points that are easily accessible in areas within the school.


  33. Partnership working
  34. UNISON supports the adoption of the partnership approach in the provision of school meals. This should involve teaching, support and catering staff, along with external agencies such as health promotion workers, dietitians, school nurses, all working together It is also important to include trade unions - particularly those representing workers in the education and health sector such as the EIS and UNISON. Pupils and parents involvement in partnership approaches is essential for successful partnership working. The partnership approach should be used to develop school menus, dining room layout, facilities, and lunch time procedures.


  35. Information on nutritional content
  36. UNISON believes that caterers should convey information on food content to pupils and parents. Methods of transferring information could include through lessons and the curriculum, via existing school communications channels such as newsletters, parents' meetings, notice boards, and using new technology such as websites and email.


  37. Consult with pupils on provision of school meals, design and ambience of dining room
  38. Schools should consult with pupils on a regular basis on the provision of school meals, along with the design and ambiance of the dining room. We agree that the partnership approach should mean consultation and involvement of pupils in the content of meals, design and facilities of dining rooms.


  39. Staff incentive schemes
  40. UNISON Scotland has real concerns over the proposal to consider the introduction of staff incentive schemes. Staff delivering school meals are amongst the lowest paid local authority workers. They are at the front line of service delivery, and are committed to their work. To suggest that providing prizes or stars as incentives to improve the service and uptake of meals is extremely patronising to these hardworking and dedicated staff. UNISON believes that paying school meals staff decent wages would provide a much greater incentive to develop the school meals service. Staff do play a critical role in the delivery of school meals, they are at the frontline and are expert in understanding what works and what doesn't. As we have indicated elsewhere in this submission, the role of staff is essential and school meals staff should be consulted and fully involved in the development of the service.


  41. Best Value review
  42. In any best value review of school meals services the education and health strategies should be taken into account. UNISON strongly believes that school meals are part of the whole school experience, they are not simply a commercial trading activity, but part of the learning experience and therefore should be treated as such. UNISON opposes the profits /loss calculations implied by the commercial elements of Best Value. Instead calculations for Best Value should focus on nutrition, health, and education values.


  43. Strategic role of CoSLA
  44. UNISON agrees that COSLA should have a strategic role in developing and incorporating strategies for implementing these recommendations into mainstream planning processes. However, it should be noted that COSLA will need resources and personnel to be able to carry out this role effectively.


  45. Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit - develop standards
  46. We support the proposal that the Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit should take the Panel's recommendations into consideration when developing standards for health promoting schools.


  47. Training for all school catering and dining room supervisory staff
  48. We welcome the opportunity for training and development for school catering and dining room supervisory staff. It is important that these staff are given support and encouragement - including paid leave - to attend training sessions. In addition there should be recognition of training and development in pay and status, particularly as school meals staff are some of the lowest paid workers in local government.


  49. Monitoring implementation of Scottish Nutrient Standards for School Lunches
  50. UNISON recognises the need to monitor and evaluate progress with school meals. Clearly this is the way to develop school meals provision and assess the successes and difficulties experienced, and move forward positively. However, UNISON is mindful of the administrative burdens monitoring and evaluation is going to place on schools or education authorities. The Scottish Executive needs to provide the resources and personnel for monitoring systems, and to implement standards. Schools will require the support and co-operation of a range of agencies, along with pupils and parents in order for monitoring and evaluation to be a success.


  51. Further work

UNISON supports the outline proposals for further work to be done on

food in schools. We have particular concerns on aggressive advertising of chocolate, confectionery and fizzy drinks in schools, along with sponsoring and promotion, and feel that this is an areas that should be addressed. UNISON encourages the provision of free milk in schools, along with the availability of free water in classrooms, corridors and dining rooms. It is important to make families aware of their entitlement to free school meals - however, as was discovered in the consultation on the School Meals Bill, entitlement is limited, and many families will find themselves in a poverty trap.

NOTE: School Meals in the 21st Century, A UNISON Report (March 2002) Commissioned by the Labour Research Department, to be considered with this paper, is available from the addresss below.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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