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New standards FAQs

Frequently asked questions about the new school food standards.

General questions
When did the new school food standards come into force?
Why are new standards being introduced?
How have the new standards been developed?
Will the new standards require schools and caterers to nutritionally analyse their lunch menus?
Will the new standards apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
What is the purpose of the practical guidance?
Do the School Food Regulations include a requirement for schools to provide a hot meal?
Do the new standards apply to packed lunches and snacks bought in from home?
Do the new standards include requirements on portion sizes?
Who do the school food standards apply to?
Do the new standards apply to academies and free schools?
Do the revisednew school food standards apply to boarding schools?
Do the revisednew standards apply to food provided to pupils at the Christmas party/tuck shop/cooking club?
Is food provided on school trips required to meet the revisednew standards?
How do we cater for children with allergies or special dietary requirements?
Do schools and early years settings need to provide allergen information for the foods they provide to pupils?

New school food standards: food groups
Starchy food
Fruit and vegetables
Meat, fish, eggs, beans and non-dairy sources of protein
Milk and dairy
Foods high in fat, sugar and salt
Healthier Drinks

School Food Standards for Food served outside lunchtime
Do we have to provide fruit and vegetables in all school food outlets such as breakfast clubs, tuckshops etc?
Can we serve homemade cakes and biscuits at mid-morning break and after school clubs? What about malt loaf and fruit bread?
Can we serve desserts at after school clubs?
Can we provide bacon or sausage sandwiches at breakfast clubs?

Monitoring the new school food standards
Who is responsible for ensuring these standards are met in schools?
How are the standards going to be evaluated and monitored?
Will Ofsted be assessing schools’ adherence to the new standards?

General questions

When did the new school food standards come into force?
The standards became statutory from 1st January 2015. The legislation which underpins these standards is available from here.

Why have new standards been introduced?
The previous standards (introduced in 2006) had had a positive impact on the food children chose and ate at school. On average school lunches now contain 30% less sugar, salt and saturated fat than before these standards were introduced.

It was always intended these standards would be reviewed. In July 2013, an independent review (School Food Plan) led by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent gathered feedback from cooks and caterers and found the previous school food standards needed to be easier to understand and use. They recommended government create a clearer set of food-based standards, accompanied by practical guidance to:

  • provide caterers with a framework on which to build interesting, creative and nutritionally-balanced menus; and
  • make it easier and operationally cheaper to implement than the current nutrient-based standards

How have the new standards been developed?
The new standards were developed by the School Food Plan Standards Expert Panel and advised by The Children’s Food Trust’s nutrition team.

The Children’s Food Trust was also commissioned to pilot test the new standards (available here.) This was done with a diverse range of 35 schools and 24 caterers across the country. The engagement from these participants was very high and the feedback positive.

Some of the key findings were:

  • 9 out of 10 school cooks and caterers told us that they found the new standards ‘easier to understand’ than the current standards.
  • 8 out of 10 school cooks and caterers thought they would provide ‘more flexibility to plan interesting and creative menus that appeal to pupils’.
  • The nutrient content of the average school lunch was as good, and in some cases better, than that observed under the previous standards.

Will the new standards require schools and caterers to nutritionally analyse their lunch menus?
No. The new standards are food-based only. Planning menus to meet these food-based standards and following the portion size information included in the practical guide will ensure that lunch provision is balanced and meets children’s nutritional requirements.

Will the new standards apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
No. The new school food standards only apply to schools in England.

What is the purpose of the practical guidance?
The practical guidance has been developed for schools, their cooks and caterers to help them to interpret the regulations and to give them hints and tips as to how they can design exciting and nutritionally balanced menus.

Do the School Food Regulations include a requirement for schools to provide a hot meal?
All food provided in schools must meet the regulations. The standards do not specify that food must be hot, however it is more difficult to meet these standards through providing only cold meals.

Do the new standards apply to packed lunches and snacks bought in from home?
No. Schools can make their own decisions about packed lunches and snacks. The School Food Plan has examples of how schools have successfully implemented healthy-eating packed lunch policies, working with pupils and parents.

Do the new standards include requirements on portion sizes?
The new standards specify how often different types of food and drink can provided. Guidance on typical portion sizes is included in the guidance for schools, cooks and caterers.

Who do the school food standards apply to?
The school food standards apply to:

  • the food and drink provided in local authority maintained primary, secondary, special schools and pupil referral units in England
  • academies (established September 2008 and September 2010) and those signing the new funding agreements from June 2014
  • sixth forms that are part of secondary schools, (even those in a separate building or on a different site), but do not apply to the sixth form colleges or further education colleges
  • maintained nursery schools and nursery units within primary schools
  • after school clubs run on school premises.

The standards do not apply to:

  • independent schools
  • food and drink provided after 6pm, or during weekends or school holidays.

There are exemptions in place for parties or celebrations to mark religious or cultural occasions; fund-raising events; rewards for achievement, good behaviour or effort; food used in teaching food preparation and cookery skills; food provided on an occasional basis by parents or pupils.

Do the new standards apply to academies and free schools?
The standards apply to maintained schools, academies that opened prior to 2010 and academies and free schools entering into a funding agreement from June 2014. The authors of the School Food Plan and the Children’s Food Trust are encouraging academies and free schools founded between those dates to sign up voluntarily to the new standards, which they can do at www.schoolfoodplan.com/school-food-standards.

Do the new school food standards apply to boarding schools?
The new standards apply to all maintained primary, secondary, special schools and PRUs in England, and to some academies. Therefore, they do apply to maintained boarding schools.

The standards apply to all food and drink provided before 6pm on a school day. School lunches provided in boarding schools should be planned to meet the new standards for school lunches, and food provided at other times of the day (e.g. breakfast, tuck shops, vending machines and evening meals provided before 6pm) should be planned to meet the standards for food other than lunches.

There is an exemption in The Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014, so that evening meals provided before 6pm in boarding schools do not have to meet all of the food-based standards that apply to other schools. This exemption means that evening meals can include confectionery, snacks, cakes or biscuits.

Do the new standards apply to food provided to pupils at the Christmas party/tuck shop/cooking club?
There are some exemptions included in the new standards, so that food not meeting the standards can be provided to pupils under certain circumstances. These include:

  • At parties or celebrations to mark religious or cultural occasions
  • At fundraising events such as school fetes or occasional whole school events - food provided in regular tuck shops etc used for fundraising would still need to meet the standards
  • As rewards for achievement, good behaviour or effort
  • For use in teaching food preparation and cookery skills, including where the food prepared is served to pupils as part of a school lunch
  • Food provided on an occasional basis by parents or pupils

We would encourage schools to consider the exemptions above in the context of their whole school approach to healthy eating, for example by not using food not meeting the standards as rewards for pupils, and having policies in place regarding food that is brought into school by parents or pupils such as birthday cakes.

Is food provided on school trips required to meet the new standards?
The new standards apply to food and drinks provided to pupils by the local authority or governing body on school trips lasting at least seven days. Food provided on day trips and residential trips lasting fewer than seven days is not required to comply, but where schools are providing lunches for pupils on day trips, we would encourage these to meet the standards wherever possible.

How do we cater for children with allergies or special dietary requirements?
School lunch menus are designed for the majority of the school population, so some pupils with special dietary needs may need to be catered for individually. It is up to the school to decide whether this is feasible, although every reasonable effort should be made to cater for all pupils' needs.

We would recommend that schools develop a policy and procedure to ensure that a request for a special diet is handled in an efficient and appropriate way. It is good practice for these requirements to be written into any contracts that are developed with caterers. Catering providers and local authorities may already have policies and procedures in place.

Do schools and early years settings need to provide allergen information for the foods they provide to pupils?
Yes, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, enforced in the UK by the Food Information Regulations 2014, applies to all food businesses, including schools, early years settings and hospitals from 13th December 2014.

These Regulations mean that schools and early years settings have a legal responsibility to provide correct information about the allergens that are contained in the food and drink they make or serve to pupils. The 14 allergens covered by the requirements are celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide. Information can be provided in a written format (e.g. listed on menus or standard recipes), or available for staff to explain verbally to parents and children.

It is important that the information provided on the 14 allergens is correct and consistent, and that processes are in place to ensure the allergen information is updated as required, and that staff know how to access and explain this (e.g. through policies and training).

To provide this information, schools and early years settings (or their caterers) will need to think about the ingredients used in each dish they prepare, and check which allergens are present in each ingredient (e.g. by checking product labels or specifications, or by checking with suppliers).

Guidance to support food businesses to meet this requirement is available from the Food Standards Agency website. Watch this space, another relevant FACT SHEET will be published soon by the Food Standards Agency (in liaison with Department for Education and Children’s Food Trust) explaining in more detail what actions you should take to comply with this legislation.

School food standards for food served outside lunchtime

Do we have to provide fruit and vegetables in all school food outlets such as breakfast clubs, tuckshops etc?
Yes – at least one option per outlet. We recommend providing both a fruit and a vegetable option.

Can we serve homemade cakes and biscuits at mid-morning break and after school clubs? What about malt loaf and fruit bread?
Cakes (whether homemade or bought in) can only be served at lunchtime, as they can be high in fat and/or sugar. This includes cookies and flapjacks, scones and pastries such as croissants. Breadsticks and crackers are classed as savoury biscuits, and should not be provided at times other than lunch.

Malt loaf and other bread type products like bagels, currant and fruit bread, crumpets, tea cakes and English muffins can be served at any time, as these tend to be lower in fat and sugar.

Can we serve desserts at after school clubs?
The only desserts you can serve at an after school club are fruit, yoghurt and fruit-based desserts containing at least 50% fruit. It is good practice to provide yoghurts that are low in sugar, and sweeten using fruit.

Can we provide bacon or sausage sandwiches at breakfast clubs?
Sausages are classed as a meat product. Sausage sandwiches can be provided once a week in primary schools, and twice a week in secondary schools, but if provided at breakfast club, couldn’t be provided at any other time in the same week.

Bacon is not a meat product, so provision of bacon is not restricted. However, as bacon is high in salt, we wouldn’t recommend serving it every day. Try reduced sugar baked beans or scrambled eggs as a hot alternative to bacon.

Monitoring the new school food standards

Who is responsible for ensuring these standards are met in Schools?
Governing bodies are legally responsible for meeting the school food standards. Information outlining the responsibilities of governing bodies for school food was published by the Department for Education in January 2015, and is available to download from here.

How are the standards going to be evaluated and monitored?
As one of the actions from the School Food Plan, the Department for Education has committed to assess the nutritional quality of the food available, and plan to use nutritional standards surveys carried out 2004-2006 as a baseline. The impact of the new standards on food provision and children’s food choices and consumption will be assessed once they have had an opportunity to bed down in schools.

Will Ofsted be assessing schools’ adherence to the new standards?
A new Ofsted Common Inspection Framework is being introduced in September 2015 for schools and other settings. As part of this framework, Ofsted are giving wellbeing, health and healthy eating a more prominent place in inspection, with a judgement on personal development, behaviour and welfare included for the first time. This will include looking at the extent to which schools are successfully supporting pupils to gain knowledge of how to keep themselves healthy, including through exercise and healthy eating, and will include looking at the food on offer and the atmosphere and culture in the dining room and the effect on behaviour. More information about this is available from here.