Through this project, campaigning charity School Food Matters will work with local primary, secondary and special schools in local areas with high levels of childhood obesity to improve the food culture in the schools and the provision of food across the school day. Over five years, the project plans to work with around 80 schools in Lambeth and Southwark to create sustainable change to the food provided at breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, as well as support the development and implementation of school food and hydration policies which puts children’s health first.
By working in partnership with school communities, local authorities and organisations providing school food, the project aims to create sustained long-term local impact on school food environments, as well as to influence food and drink policy at local, regional and national levels.
December 2019 – February 2020
Set up, including expansion of School Food Matters team and specialist partners
March – July 2020
Project begins to engage key schools, evaluation plans tested and confirmed, sample cohort of schools chosen, communications partner recruited and project plan in place
September 2020 – December 2023
Project operating at scale in local schools and informing national organisations in this sector, policies and other decision-makers
January 2023 – December 2024
Project continues with the final cohort of initiatives in local schools. As activity winds down at the end of 2024, final evaluation outputs will be published to share learnings
School Food Matters will tackle the problem of unhealthy food in schools through three complementary initiatives:
Improving food policies
The focus of this project will be on making significant changes to the food policies in local schools to improve children’s health, addressing the high rates of childhood obesity in the local area. This will include providing expertise and support to implement new policies for schools issued by the local authorities. These policy shifts are often complex and take time to develop, implement and embed as the norm in schools, so this initiative will work with a number of schools over a full academic year to roll-out changes. After demonstrating the efficacy of particular changes at a local level, we plan to use the evidence to inform national policy.
We have identified several key areas to explore in shifting schools towards a healthier food culture. This includes introducing or improving the implementation of policies around packed lunches, water-only, puddings and regular meat-free days. By looking closely at the food on offer across the school day, we will support more local schools to comply with the School Food Standards.
Healthier breakfast clubs
Before school begins, lots of local primary school-aged children attend breakfast clubs. School Food Matters will work with suppliers to ensure healthy, nutritious food and drink options are the norm for local school breakfasts.
This part of the project will focus on working with schools with existing breakfast clubs to make improvements to their offering, as well as broker some new healthy breakfast club provision into schools in greatest need. The project will also work with secondary and special schools interested in improving an existing breakfast offer or creating one.
Healthy after-school clubs
At the end of the school day, some children attend an after-school club at primary school, where food is provided. There can often be a lack of investment in the food on offer here, meaning it is often low quality, calorie-dense and lacking in nutrition. School Food Matters aims to support school staff running clubs to improve what’s on offer by providing them with a training session covering food hygiene, basic knife skills and management, recipe development and information on the School Food Standards.
After this basic training, project officers from School Food Matters will work with school teams to develop new recipes that replace the less healthy food and drink options. The recipes will be developed considering the resources and budgets of the school and what foods the children would like to try at the club. The project will also work with secondary and special schools who are interested in improving an existing after school food offer or would like to create a healthier food offer on or near their site which could rival other less healthy venues nearby.
We know many of the causes of, and some solutions to, the issue of unhealthy food in schools. We want to deliver projects where we can have the biggest impact on reducing the childhood obesity inequality gap through addressing these, both in terms of local delivery and informing policy at a national level.
Since we launched our childhood obesity programme, we have funded a mix of projects to help us better understand what childhood obesity looks like in our inner-city setting. Within our schools strand of work, this has focused on working within schools themselves and with local stakeholders to understand what the food environment looks like for children.
Through that work, we realised that, for complex and varied reasons, many schools do not meet the School Food Standards, which are designed to support schools to provide nutritious meals for children that encourage healthy eating habits.
After finding this out, we wanted to deliver a project that improved the healthiness of food in schools. At a minimum, this means reaching the School Food Standards, ensuring school food includes fresh fruit and vegetables, and balanced meals with correct portion sizes.
In 2017, we partnered with School Food Matters on a small project to focus on the food environment in three schools, before co-developing this significantly larger project.
School Food Matters is a registered charity with a mission to ensure that every child enjoys fresh, sustainable food at school and understands where their food comes from. School Food Matters campaigns for better school meals and food education for all, to improve children’s health and happiness. This project is focused on the provision of healthier school food and associated supportive activity.
The organisation regularly delivers programmes in London schools and campaigns for policy changes at a national level to improve school food. School Food Matters partners with over a hundred schools each year and uses its experience and insights to inform policy and develop national thinking on school food provision. The charity convenes broader school food campaigning activity with a coalition of partner organisations, including Sustain, Soil Association and the Food Foundation.
We will be working with an external evaluator to understand the impact of this work at scale in the boroughs.
Some high-level indicators of success are likely to be:
Portfolio Manager: Rebecca Sunter