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
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 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.
- Scottish Nutrient Standards for School Lunches
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.
- Promotion of food and drink with high fat or sugar content
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
- Labelling food
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.
- Presentation, marketing and pricing structures to incentivise
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
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.
- Links between learning and eating in the curriculum and
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.
- Refurbishment of dining room
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.
- Separate area for dining
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.
- Structure of the school day
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.
- Seating and queuing arrangements
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.
- Dining / paying / ordering meals arrangements
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
- Classroom assistants / dining room assistants to supervise
in dining rooms
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.
- Support and endorsement of senior managers
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.
- Delivering special needs
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.
- Increasing take up for free school meals
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.
- Smart cards
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
- Card validators
Education authorities should ensure that there
are sufficient card validation points that are easily accessible
in areas within the school.
- Partnership working
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.
- Information on nutritional content
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.
- Consult with pupils on provision of school meals, design
and ambience of dining room
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.
- Staff incentive schemes
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.
- Best Value review
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.
- Strategic role of CoSLA
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.
- Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit - develop standards
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
- Training for all school catering and dining room supervisory
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.
- Monitoring implementation of Scottish Nutrient Standards
for School Lunches
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.
- 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.