New report calls on government to make all schools in England ‘healthy zones’

  • Poor food practices are widespread in primary and secondary schools in England, according to new report
  • This is despite launch of government’s School Food Plan in 2013
  • Review finds foods high in sugar, salt and fat are readily available to pupils as part of school lunches, break time offers and fundraising activities such as cake sales
  • Report led by Jamie Oliver Food Foundation in partnership with University of Sheffield, British Nutrition Foundation and Food Teachers’ Centre

Poor food practices are still widespread in schools in England despite the launch of a government school food plan, according to a new report.

A school boy drinking a glass of water

The report, led by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation in partnership with the University of Sheffield, the British Nutrition Foundation and the Food Teachers’ Centre, has examined food education, food culture and behaviour change in primary and secondary schools throughout England.

Over the last year more than 2000 teachers and senior school leaders, around 600 parents, 240 pupils, as well as governors, caterers and wider stakeholders contributed to this review.

Funded by the AKO Foundation, the Food Education Learning Landscape Review found:

  • 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
  • A need for all schools to become ‘healthy zones’ where pupils’ health and wellbeing is consistently and actively promoted through the policies and actions of the whole school community
  • 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 the school day
  • Food teachers needing greater support from the whole school community, including school teachers, caterers, governors and parents to develop healthy eating practices among pupils

The review also discovered 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 found there was a clear message in favour of a healthier school environment.

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.

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 compulsory in all schools and cover all food and drink when it is consumed at school
  • Reporting and evaluation of food education, food culture and food provision should be mandatory

Dr Caroline Hart from the School of Education at the 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.”

Additional information

The full Food Education Learning Landscape Review, and associated appendices, is available at:

The Food Education Learning Landscape Review was conducted from November 2016 through to September 2017. The Jamie Oliver Foundation, in partnership with the British Nutrition Foundation, the Food Teachers Centre and the University of Sheffield, worked with over 50 expert organisations to gather evidence and opinion.

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For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Junior Public Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852