Better eating, better learning: a new context for school food

Refreshed guidance to support schools and all stakeholders to work in partnership to make improvements in school food and food education.

Section 2 Introduction

The Working Group's aim

As a Working Group, we share a vision to improve the life chances of our children and young people through the food choices they make now and in the future.

There is a good story to tell about school food and drink, and food education in Scotland and we recognise that there is significant activity aimed at providing our children with the best start in life. However success is not always recognised and is not consistent across Scotland, and there are still many misconceptions which hold back progress. We need to do much more if we are to give all our children and young people the start they deserve and to build on the progress we have worked hard to achieve.

The policy landscape has changed significantly over the last 10 years, which brings challenges, but also considerable opportunities. To help those involved in school food and drink provision or food education rise to these challenges and opportunities, this document offers inspiration and support by sharing ideas and encouraging action. It applies across the whole of the school day, and even beyond. It necessarily has a teaching and school catering focus but will also be of interest to others who can support teachers and caterers in their task. This includes children and young people, parents and carers, local authorities, health boards, food producers, and industry. It encourages a joint approach to improve the effectiveness of school food delivery. Although more relevant to primary, secondary and special schools, it will also be useful for those with responsibilities for teaching and feeding children in early years settings. [2]

This document will help you step back and consider the new context for school food. It will help you challenge what you already do, discuss how you can make it better and then work with others to drive change forward. It poses reflective questions throughout, is accompanied by a self-evaluation tool [3] intended for repeated use, and will lead you to an on-line 'resource page' which includes additional support and information.

By using the document and tool to support a review of your current practice we want you to see the value of school food and food education and how this extends well beyond children and young people in school, and to identify and recognise effective practice as well as where further improvements can be made. We believe that better eating and better learning now will bring lasting consequences for Scotland's future prosperity.

The policy and legislative context

Hungry for Success

Sir Harry Burns set out in his foreword that the origins of the school food revolution in Scotland lie in a report published in 2003, Hungry for Success - A Whole School Approach to School Meals. [4] This report set out a number of recommendations designed to revolutionise school lunches and improve health and wellbeing at school in general. Over the following years local authorities and schools embraced the challenges they collectively faced and worked hard to implement the recommendations.

The Act

Building on the significant achievements of Hungry for Success, the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007 [5] was unanimously approved by the Scottish Parliament. This Act made health promotion a central purpose of schooling and set out a number of duties, which included:

  • a duty on Scottish Ministers, education authorities and managers of grant-aided schools to endeavour to ensure that schools are health-promoting;
  • a duty for education authorities and managers of grant-aided schools to ensure that all food and drink provided in schools complies with nutritional requirements specified by Scottish Ministers in regulations;
  • a duty on education authorities to promote school lunches and, in particular, free school lunches;
  • a duty on education authorities to protect the identity of those receiving free school lunches; and
  • a duty on education authorities and managers of grant-aided schools to have regard to any guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers on the application of the principles of sustainable development when providing food or drink or catering services in schools.

The legislation emphasises the valuable role of schools in improving the nutritional quality of children's diets. By promoting consistent messages about food and nutrition within a health-promoting school environment, the contribution of the school food service is recognised in terms of health and education outcomes.

The Regulations

The Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008 [6] followed the Act, and aligned the nutritional standards for all food and drink in schools with the Scottish Government's dietary goals for the population. The duties under the Act and the standards in the Regulations are monitored by Education Scotland Health and Nutrition Inspectors as part of the national programme of school inspections.

Curriculum for Excellence

Curriculum for Excellence, [7] implemented across Scotland in 2010, aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the attributes, knowledge and skills they need to flourish in life, learning and work - it ultimately aims to improve young people's achievements, attainment and life chances. It encourages links across all aspects of the curriculum to provide breadth and depth to learning.

Health and wellbeing, alongside numeracy and literacy, is one of the three core areas that are the 'responsibility of all', as well as being one of the eight curricular areas of the broad general education to which all children and young people are entitled.

One of the topics under health and wellbeing is 'food and health', where learners will develop their understanding of a healthy diet and acquire knowledge and skills to make healthy food choices and help to establish lifelong healthy eating habits.

Recipe for Success: Scotland's National Food and Drink Policy

Scotland's first national food and drink policy, published in 2009, [8] aims to promote Scotland's sustainable economic growth in relation to food and drink. It focuses attention on the need for the Scottish Government and the food and drink industry to address issues of quality, health and wellbeing and environmental sustainability while recognising the necessity to promote affordability and access to good food and nutrition.

Procurement Reform Bill/Act

The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill [9] was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 3 October 2013 and will place a duty on relevant contracting authorities to comply with sustainable procurement. The proposed aim of the Bill is to establish a national legislative framework for sustainable public procurement that supports Scotland's economic growth. It will do this by delivering social and environmental benefits including community benefits, supporting innovation and promoting public procurement processes and systems which are transparent, streamlined, standardised, proportionate, fair and business-friendly.

Community Plan and Single Outcome Agreements

The Single Outcome Agreement ( SOA) is an explicit and binding 'plan for place' agreed with the Scottish Government. It must include clear and formally agreed outcomes, indicators and targets, for which all partners are jointly accountable in line with their respective contributions. The Community Planning Partnerships ( CPP) must ensure that the SOA is resourced: partners must contribute appropriately and will be held to account for those contributions by the CPP through a strong role for local elected members, and by the Scottish Government. There are six priorities including: safer and stronger communities and reducing offending; health inequalities and physical activity; and economic recovery and growth.

If it is recognised corporately as a key service, school food is able to contribute significantly to achieving the commitments which the local authority has set out in its Single Outcome Agreement and Community Plan.

To strengthen the school food agenda it is vital that local authority managers and decision-makers take account of developments such as:

  • The Single Outcome Agreement
  • Curriculum for Excellence
  • The Public Duties Climate Change Guidance 2011
  • Obesity Route Map Action Plan
  • Scottish Dietary Goals
  • Community Planning duties
  • The Sustainable Procurement Action Plan 2007 and the Procurement Reform Bill
  • The National Food and Drink Policy 2008
  • The Christie Commission Report on the Future Delivery of Public Service

A comprehensive description demonstrating how school food can deliver for a range of policies for local authorities and Scotland as a whole, is available on the resource page. [10] It shows why and how these should be taken into account in service planning by local authority school meals services and education. See Annex B for a diagram which illustrates the context for school food in Scotland.

Building on success

Much has been achieved as a result of legislation and policy developments and there is some inspiring work in schools engaging with children and young people through the context of school food. Our model of school food and drink provision and food education has been admired internationally.

We see encouraging trends in the take-up of school meals [11] and increased investment creating valuable food learning experiences for children and young people. [12] In some cases school food and drink is already regarded as an integral part of education and is valued for providing good nutrition for young people while delivering multiple benefits for society.

We want this document to make a real difference. The future challenges around food are recognised in the need to reduce overweight and obesity in the population, to deal effectively with climate change and to build Scotland's resilience as global competition for food increases. We believe that investing in school food now will improve Scotland's health and save money in the longer term. If its central role in health and wellbeing is recognised and it is given the strategic importance it deserves, school food can contribute substantially to our national and local educational, social, economic and environmental objectives.

The benefits of investing in, and recognising the strategic importance of, school food and food education, include:

  • children and young people will access better food and have an increased understanding of the importance of food for their physical and mental wellbeing;
  • service delivery will improve and dietary and sustainability messages will be developed in the community;
  • the food industry will better understand the ethos and drive for health and sustainability through school food;
  • Curriculum for Excellence health and wellbeing priorities will be better integrated with the school food service;
  • headteachers will be clearer on the role of the school food service within the whole school context;
  • those delivering school food will have an improved clarity of purpose, with the service realigned and updated to current policies and legislation allowing better service planning and prioritisation of what matters; and
  • school food and food education will contribute more effectively to local government priorities, Scottish policy and legislation.

Approach taken by the Working Group

In producing this document the Working Group engaged widely with the stakeholders to gain a full understanding of the issues and challenges faced. They sought input from children and young people through research by Children in Scotland [13] which drew on a small but representative cross-section of schools in Scotland. The research shows that children and young people are being given the knowledge, skills and experience to ensure that they are able to make the best choices for a long, productive and healthy life. However, it also showed that children do not always put their learning into practice and that schools could pay more attention to children and young people's preferences and also involve them in improvements.

The document is broken down into seven key areas for action:

  • Food and Health;
  • Food and Learning;
  • School Food and Drink Provision;
  • The Dining Experience;
  • Sustainability through Food;
  • Training and Support; and
  • Communication and Engagement.

The main document is supported by a self-evaluation tool structured around the seven key areas.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot of overlap between the sections. Readers are encouraged to look at the whole document. A teacher has a role to play in food and drink provision, just as a cook has a role in promoting food education, and a parent has a role to play in both. For reasons of brevity, the term 'parents' is used to refer to parents and carers, and 'school' covers schools and learning centres.

The working group have produced this document and self-evaluation tool to encourage reflection and honest self-evaluation and to inspire action which will bring about improvements to school food and food education.


Email: Lynne Carter,

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