The National Food Strategy is the UK’s first comprehensive review of the food system in over 75 years.
It was commissioned by the government and lays out concrete proposals for how our food system needs to be reformed to meet health, nature and climate targets.
Interestingly, it has a lot to say about schools.
Food for Life
The report specifically recommends taking a whole school approach to food. The Food for Life Programme provides such a framework, and is in action in a number of schools across Lincolnshire.
Food for Life takes an holistic approach to good food. It makes connections with local food culture and community, and includes the adults’ responsibility for sourcing healthy, local food and fostering a healthy food culture in school.
It also recognises that getting children involved in growing food themselves has a particular propensity for capturing their imagination, and sparking an interest in fresh fruit and vegetables that supermarkets could never ignite!
Over and over again, when I speak to those leading on school-based growing projects, they are fired up by their children’s enthusiasm and engagement.
One Lincolnshire school – a Food for Life Gold award winning school – is famous for deeply embedding healthy food in school life. You can listen to their school garden teacher, Emma Keyworth, talking about food in school here. Watch out for more about Washingborough Academy in the Autumn, but in the meantime, I recommend following the school if you use Twitter, which will give you a glimpse of what goes on day to day.
“Schools should be encouraged to adopt a “whole- school approach” to food. This means integrating food into the life of the school: the dining hall should be treated as the hub of the school, where children and teachers eat together; lunch treated as part of the school day; the cooks as important staff members; and food as part of a rounded education.2 The Government should require all schools to work with accreditation schemes – such as Food for Life – to improve school food and education using this whole school approach.”The National Food Strategy, 2021
St Faith’s Infants
St Faiths Infants School in Lincoln is ahead of the game, having already signed up to the Food for Life scheme. Last week I spoke with a couple of Year 1 teachers, Mrs Smith and Mrs Walton, who have exciting plans for developing the school’s outdoor environment for food growing.
They are developing the science curriculum so that children have the opportunity to grow different plants in different year groups, providing a diversity of crops at any one time.
But it’s not just for science – they want a playground of food!
A Playground of Food
“During lockdown the children have been outside more than usual,” the teachers explain to me. “And what we’ve found is that he children are enthusiastic – they want to learn about growing food. We put on a gardening club and they’re all going ‘Can I come?’”
So now they want not only to put the raised beds into action, but are looking for planters to go on the playground too, where the children can all get involved in watering, weeding and observing the plants grow.
Mrs Walton and Mrs Smith – who are gardeners themselves – are keen to get more people involved. They have found that teaching assistants, who previously insisted that they knew nothing about gardening, have become interested to learn new skills.
They have seen how it engages the children, and that’s what they want!
The teachers acknowledge that it helps to have people on the leadership team who are doing it themselves, not just telling people what to do. Both of them are Key Stage Leaders, so they are in a good position to influence these developments.
What else does the National Food Strategy have to say about schools?
Free School Meals & HAF
It recommends expanding the eligibility of free school meals and the Healthy Start scheme; continued government funding for HAF (Holiday Activities & Food) for school children; and strengthening government procurement rules so that money is spent on healthier and more sustainable food.
Eat & Learn
The recommended Eat & Learn initiative for schools includes expanding food sensory education in the early years (though we’ve seen the amazing benefits of the TastEd programme right across the primary school age range), as well as the (re)introduction of Food A-level and food related training supported by bursaries.
If the recommendations are acted upon by the government, we will see school food activities fully funded, and OFSTED putting the same value on Food as it does other areas of the curriculum.
But we can start creating more opportunities for good food in school right away.
If you are interested in connecting with a network of teachers and educators in Lincolnshire who are involved in growing food and healthy eating in schools, please get in touch. Laura@lincolnshirefoodpartnership.org
What the new #NationalFoodStrategy says about schools, and a #playground of food @StFaithsTweetsTweet