First Comprehensive Review of Food Education in Schools

Dr Caroline Hart, Lead Academic Advisor for the review, highlights the concerns of teachers and parents over children's diets in schools. The report calls on government to make all schools in England ‘healthy zones'.

FoodRevolutionCrispsThe Food Education Learning Landscape (FELL) review was undertaken by the University of Sheffield, the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, the British Nutrition Foundation and the Food Teachers’ Centre. Over the last year more than 2000 teachers and senior leaders, around 600 parents, 240 pupils, as well as governors, caterers and wider stakeholders have contributed to this review which examined food education, food culture and behaviour change. The work was funded by the AKO Foundation.

Despite the introduction of new curriculum guidance for food education in 2014, pupils still have limited practical cooking opportunities and a key element missing is a focus on pupils’ values, aspirations and motivation to make healthy choices Pupils in many schools, particularly secondary schools, reported finding it difficult to put their learning into practice due to poor school food environments which included the widespread availability of foods high in sugar, salt and fat during school day.

The review recommends that all schools become ‘healthy zones’ where pupils’ health and wellbeing is consistently and actively promoted through the policies and actions of the whole school community
Reporting and evaluation of food education, food culture and food provision should be mandatory, report says

Pupils across England are struggling to apply their learning about the benefits of healthy eating, a comprehensive national review of the FELL has found.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, along with the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, British Nutrition Foundation and the Food Teachers Centre, undertook a comprehensive review of the state of food education and food culture in primary and secondary schools in England.

The review found that poor food practices were widespread despite the launch of the Government’s School Food Plan in 2013 which aims to improve food culture in schools. Foods high in sugar, salt and fat were readily available to pupils as part of school lunches, break time offers and fundraising activities such as cake sales.

This has led to a disconnect with what pupils are being taught about healthy eating and limits their opportunities to make healthier choices while at school, the report notes.

A survey of teachers, pupils and parents said there was a clear message in favour of a healthier school environment.
Food teachers also reported needing greater support from the whole school community, including school leaders, caterers, governors and parents to develop healthy eating practices among pupils

In response, the report authors have called on the government to provide more support to schools to improve the food education curriculum and the culture in schools around healthy eating.

They also recommend that schools be required to report and evaluate their food education and food provision. Schools should become ‘healthy zones’ where pupils’ health and wellbeing is consistently and actively promoted through the policies and actions of the whole school community.

Other recommendations included:

Food education should focus on three key components including ‘capability’ (developing pupils’ knowledge and skills), ‘opportunity’ (providing a health-promoting physical and social environment) and ‘motivation’ (understanding and supporting pupils’ health-related values and aspirations).
Food education should be given greater priority in workforce training and in school development plans
Government should make School Food Standards mandatory in all schools and cover all food and drink when it is consumed at school

Dr Caroline Hart, School of Education, University of Sheffield, was the academic lead for the national review and said: “For many primary schools, a major concern is the prolific sale of cakes, sweets, cookies and crisps as part of fundraising efforts. In many secondary schools, a key issue is the lack of healthy food offers that enable pupils to put their food education into practice.

“Pupils told us that, when sugary drinks, super-sized cookies and ‘chip only’ options are available, it made it hard for them to select healthier alternatives. The vast majority of parents responding to our survey supported the reduction of unhealthy food offers in school.”

Jamie Oliver said: “We’ve proven the simple point that we need to help kids apply food knowledge in the real world, and we need to support our dedicated food teachers. We must stop giving kids contradictory messages. Most of all, if we want healthy children, we need to make all schools healthy zones. Full stop.”

The AKO Foundation said: “As a charitable foundation focused on helping schools improve educational outcomes, we wholeheartedly believe in the importance of ensuring pupils are supported in being healthy.

“This report clearly shows the steps that can now be taken to protect our children and ensure they have the best chances to succeed.”

For further enquiries, please contact c.hart@sheffield.ac.uk

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