LACA Michael Hales autumn business seminar
Michael Hales outlines his plans for LACA
LACA autumn business seminar delegates
Delegates at the Autumn Business Seminar
LACA campaign pledges at Autumn Business Seminar
20/11/2018 - 09:36
School meals organisation LACA will be focusing on two issues over the coming year – universal infact free school meals and fast food restaurants near schools, reports David Foad.

Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA) chair Michael Hales told members that the organisation will be concentrating its fire power on campaigning to expand the scope of universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) and on tackling the growing number of fast food restaurants springing up close to school gates.

“We want to see UIFSM extended to all primary school children and we urgently want a review of the £2.30 paid for the delivery of every meal under the scheme.

“And we want to try to do something about the vast number of fast food outlets that operate near schools. We know their target market, in fact some don’t even bother to open during the day when the schools break up for the holidays, so it couldn’t be clearer.”

In Wales, where the assembly has backed a school breakfast programme rather than UIFSM, he says LACA will be supporting the breakfast club initiative.

He also shared some thoughts about the structure of LACA, pointing out that the chair is only in place for a year and this provides very little time to settle into the role and achieve anything.

Perhaps, he suggested, the association should consider employing a chief executive officer to support the chair each year.

And he also wondered allowed if LACA should retain its name. “Is it worth considering changing it to something like the School Lunch Association, which more clearly explains what we do?’

“I want to build on the LACA accreditation we have already begun with the menu checker scheme, looking at four main areas – food, sustainability, compliance, and people.

“We name to have an offer that provides more value to members, something that appeals particularly to academies and MATs [multi academy trusts].”

He also flagged up to delegates at the Autumn Seminar on November 16th an upcoming episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, in which the hosts Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Docherty planned to campaign about making school food standards compulsory for academies rather than merely advisory.

“We were worried when we first heard about it that the wrong message might be pushed. They wanted to use a ‘rate your meal’ hashtag, but we’re had a meeting and they’ve agreed to use #healthymeals instead.”

The episode in question is due to be aired on Channel 4 on December 14th.

Katie Shore, who works on the Childhood Obesity and School Food Team at the Department for Education, also spoke at the seminar.

“We have a number of exciting initiatives and policies we have been working on, but we have not been able to make significant progress on them all because we have had to prioritise,” she said.

On the plus side, she pointed to the 1.1m free school meals now being taken up by eligible pupils, and said the £26m funding for school breakfast clubs, raised through the sugar tax levy, had allowed 500 new clubs to begin to be established, with 150 already up and running,

“These play an important role in increased concentration and behaviour. Studies show breakfast helps cognitive ability and also creates healthier eating habits.”

She conceded, though, that it was very much a ‘primary phenomenon' as anecdotal evidence suggested that in seondary schools breakfast clubs ‘are not cool’.

And she admitted that progress on revised school food standards and the promised healthy school rating scheme had been disappointing to date, but said announcements were expected before the year-end.

The food standards are being modified in line with recommendations to halve children’s sugar consumption and increase the amount of fibre in their diets. She said new guidance would be ready before the new year and school caterers were encouraged to provide feedback on it once it was publicly available.

Other presentations came from Nigel Argyle, who gave members an update on National School Meals Week (November 12-16), and Michael Nelson, director of PHN Research, who had carried out research with the School Food Plan Alliance on potential impact of Brexit on school meals.