School food standards and academies. It’s a good news story, silly!

There’s quite a bit of strong opinion going around on the subject of Academies and school food standards, some of which I consider to be somewhat  ill-informed. So let’s just take a few moments to make some sense of the main issues involved.

As things stand at the moment, Academies which have been established since September 2010 are not required by law to comply with the school food standards (http://www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/the-standards) which are mandatory in local authority schools.

Because Academies are ‘semi-independent’, they don’t have to adhere to any government nutritional guidelines.

If you’ve followed any of my thoughts over the past year or so, you’d possibly assume my alarm bells would be ringing by now. Well they’re not, and let me tell you why.

First, let’s look at what Lynda Mitchell, chair of the Local Authority Catering Association had to say late last year, when this whole issue blew up. She expressed understandable concern that schools would now be able to “hide behind their academy status” and lower the standard of their food offering in the process.

She made this further observation: “What an academy bursar or head may determine to be healthy food may not actually adhere to proper nutrition standards because people’s ideas on healthy food are not of one accord.”

I understand her concerns, but let’s be a little wary of populist over-reaction and engage instead in a little cool analysis of the situation.

The implication by many is that by not being bound to adhere to high food standards, Academies will take the path of least resistance, cut corners in an effort to save money, and start serving up chips and chocolate every day.

But surely that thought runs contrary to the very essence of an Academy? Remember what we are talking about here: educational establishments which have been formed or re-constituted for one main purpose – to be beacons of excellence. That is their main agenda – to excel in every area of their operation. Including food service.

Would Academies really want to compromise such an important area of their operation?

I can’t see that myself.

Academies are about showing that there is a better way. And companies like Cucina have the same rationale. Read through more than one of my blog posts here and you’ll pick up the thread: Cucina has a simple mission – to change school food for good, wherever we are. We don’t do that because we’re complying with regulations. We do it because this is what our company is. And surely, it’s what Academies are too?

I think it would be useful if we moved away from doom-mongering for a while. OK, I admit we’re probably only in the 5-10% of school caterers that are driving school food standards ever higher. And that there is too much talk and not enough action. But…look at us. We’re doing it! We’re giving kids chic, trendy, nutritious food and doubling, tripling, quadrupling uptakes. We’re showing others it can be done, too.
So let’s be inspired by our Academies, and trust that they can instill excellence not because they are made to do it, but because, at a fundamental level, it’s about what they are.

Till next time,

Steve

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