Academies and free schools may be failing in their “moral duty” to ensure youngsters get healthy school meals, local government leaders have warned.
The Local Government Association has expressed concern that more than one million children attending free schools or academies could be eating poor quality meals.
This is because, unlike council maintained schools, academies and free schools can opt out of national food standards that stop schools serving junk food. The LGA is now urging the government to introduce a single food standard that applies to all schools.
The association’s plea comes as councils across the country prepare to take on a greater public health role from April. This will include responsibilities such as tackling childhood obesity.
“School autonomy is supposed to drive up standards, but in the case of school meals we now have a two-tier system where one type of school can effectively exempt pupils from healthy choices and instead sell fatty and sugary foods,” said David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board.
“This threatens to seriously impact on the health and educational attainment of our children.”
Research by the Children’s Food Trust (formerly known as the School Food Trust) last year found that nine in 10 academies were selling junk food like crisps, chocolate and cereal bars – all of which are banned in maintained schools to protect children’s health.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “If the LGA has hard evidence of academies providing poor food they should release it.
“The School Food Trust’s research shows that academies do no worse than council-run schools on food standards and outperform them in many.
“Far from being the best example of nutrition, many council-run schools are not meeting food standards and are offering cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks to their pupils. Others have said they find the standards too bureaucratic, rigid, and difficult to administer.
“However, there is room for improvement across the board – that is why we have asked independent reviewers to consider the best way to help all schools offer good, well-balanced food.”