Weekly Update from Stephen Forster
Public Sector Catering’s Webinar
As children from reception, year 1, year 2 and year 6 returned to school this week, LACA took part in Public Sector Catering’s webinar “The Future of Your Service – Schools” which was attended by 420 people. I provided an overview of LACA’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and was joined by three panellists: The Vice-Chair of LACA, Jacquie Blake, Cathy Amos, head of customer marketing at Brakes and public affairs advisor Lee Petar from Oakhill Communications.
During my interview with David Foad I outlined the work that LACA has been doing to represent the school food service at government level during the pandemic and discussed the future of the industry. The school food industry will have to adapt to the changing nature of society once schools reopen to all pupils, with a likely increase in the number of children being entitled to free school meals. Social distancing – which could potentially continue for another 12-18 months or until a vaccine is found – will also change the way we serve food in a practical sense, whilst parents will need to be reassured that the food we provide is safe. This is why we are continuing to push on with the Allergens Strategy that we hope to roll out in September.
David asked what LACA and our members have learnt over the last few months. I explained that we have had to be more flexible and adaptable, but it was disappointing to see some schools stop using their providers in favour of school vouchers. However, I know that the Government will be helping the school food industry in the coming months and that the Department for Education, through the Minister for School Food Vicky Ford, is keen to get children eating school meals provided by their caterers.
David also asked about the safety of staff and children. I emphasised the fact that, for vulnerable children, school is their safe place and I have been worried that they are missing out on the meals that they rely on. Throughout this crisis we have told Government that our service should continue to be the main provision with the voucher scheme acting as a stop-gap where this is not possible. We are encouraged that the DfE has agreed with us, knowing that this is the best way to feed children and protect people’s jobs.
The school food service stands ready for the partial re-opening of schools: a lot of schools have retained their staff and the supply chain is ready for it. The challenge will be around volume, and we have indications that only 20-25% of children will be able to go into schools under current social distancing guidelines, which will have an impact on the finances of service providers.
Given that LACA’s Main Event has been postponed, we will continue to conduct our own webinars and have introduced e-communications for the regional LACA meetings. We have also been relying on School Caterer and other trade publications to bring together the most up-to-date advice and recommendations for the sector. In addition, we have created a toolkit to assist our members as they return to school, and we advise all our members to work closely with their schools to make the process as smooth as possible. Finally, we are encouraging our members to set up a scheme where they can provide free school meal food parcels to those who are entitled to them, to ensure that children continue to receive healthy and nutritious meals.
David asked about obesity and the need to tackle this issue. LACA are responding to the Education Select Committee’s consultation into the impact of Covid-19 on education and we will be raising the need for universal school meal provision to help ensure that as many children as possible get a healthy, hot and nutritious meal. We will also repeat our call for the funding rate for UIFSM to rise, in line with the evidence we submitted to the Treasury ahead of the Budget in March where we made the case for a rise in the funding rate to £2.51 per meal.
Jacquie Blake emphasised that as an industry we will rise to the challenge that we now face. She also said that there are some opportunities, for example there is a possibility that school meal providers could support the wider community as the economic fall out of the pandemic becomes clearer.
Responses from the DFE to questions asked on the webinar will be posted on the Covid 19 page shortly.
Looking forward to September
LACA is aware of the challenges for schools in potentially reopening to all pupils in September, and we will continue to liaise with Government about this issue, and the impact on the school food industry should schools not fully return in September. We will also be pushing the Government to provide more guidance on how meals should be served in a safe way once senior schools return.
A recording of yesterday’s webinar can be found here.
Other developments this week
We have received an update from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with guidance from the Home Office about information for those who are still operating in communities (such as school food providers, pharmacists etc.) who may not be trained to recognise the signs of abuse or neglect. The guidance covers signs to spot and what to do if there is a concern.
As I said during yesterday’s webinar, I am concerned about the impact that this pandemic has had on the most vulnerable children and believe that LACA and our members have a key role to play in helping these children.
Finally, as we do go back to school it is as important as ever to share good news stories through the #LACAGoodNewsStory to demonstrate the work that our members are doing to feed children, in a safe way, as they go back to school.