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 8 Training and Support

THE CHALLENGE: To provide all teaching and catering staff involved in school food provision and food education with the support and opportunity to undertake professional training which enables and motivates them to maximise opportunities to teach children and young people about the relationship between food, health, and the environment.

Did you know … that Education Scotland has a wealth of resources which support using food as a context for interdisciplinary learning? See

Why this matters

Successful school food provision and creating the best dining and learning experience possible depends on building the confidence, knowledge and skills of the people involved. Everyone concerned - teaching and catering staff and other staff and stakeholders - needs to be consistent in their approach. This includes understanding and advocating the whole school approach to health promotion, demonstrating consistency in teaching safe and hygienic food preparation techniques, and sharing an understanding of the Act and Regulations. To bring about the transformational change that is required, there needs to be a strategic approach to training and support which embraces the whole school approach and brings teaching, catering and other staff or stakeholders together on this journey.

Commitment and performance appear to be higher in schools where the catering staff are well trained, where they have a good understanding of the reasons behind decisions made about the food service and where they understand how they play a part the process. Likewise, the quality of food education is likely to be better where all teachers are knowledgeable and confident around food and its impact on health and wellbeing, and understand the wider context for food education. Teaching and catering staff that are supported and understand how they fit into the bigger picture are better placed to actively support the school curriculum and wider local authority and national objectives. Given the statutory basis for school food and health-promoting schools, catering and teaching staff are entitled to understand the context within which they are working, particularly their role in integrating health promotion in school.

Access to up-to-date resources, training and research evidence in food education will ensure that those working in schools are appropriately equipped to competently deliver learning in this area.

Did you know … the Scottish Government funded Food Education Programme in Scotland has provided for nearly 2,500 teachers to attend training events?

Key Points

Support, training and qualifications for catering staff

It can sometimes be difficult to find the time or resources required to develop staff but it is essential that barriers to training and support are overcome. The new context for school food requires caterers who are capable of viewing the service as not just a commercial activity, but one that requires knowledge and experience in a range of administrative, food hygiene and safety, food craft and other skills. Staff need to be equipped to cook and serve appealing and appetising food as a priority. It should be common practice that all staff have a personal training plan which offers craft, serving and customer service skills to support a more sustainable school food service that might involve more scratch cooking.

At the practical level there are many qualifications available to catering staff. Certificates in Food Hygiene and Vocational Qualifications in food preparation develop core skills that enable cooking staff to produce good food with confidence. Food business operators are required by law to ensure that food handlers receive appropriate supervision and instruction/training in food hygiene in line with their work activity which enables them to handle food safely. The person responsible for developing and maintaining the business's food safety management procedures must have received adequate training to enable them to do this. The necessary skills may be obtained through on-the-job training, self-study or relevant prior experience. As schools and local authorities have responsibilities around health promotion, employee development for all school catering and dining room supervisory staff should include appropriate training around food and health. Relevant qualifications are available through a range of providers including the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland ( REHIS) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority ( SQA).

Did you know … that what happens during early years (starting in the womb) has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and wellbeing - from obesity, heart disease and mental health, to educational achievement and economic status?

'We now produce handy wallet sized information cards relating to policies or services - for example we are about to produce one for the Soil Association's 'Food for Life programme'. This allows staff to have easy access to the key facts which helps with their learning.'

Head of Catering

'We provide knife skills training for all staff, which includes a live session at our induction training. Recently we worked with our training department to develop a knife skills training DVD, starring our SVQ assessors who are known to the staff. This has been shown at overview training sessions (local briefing sessions), monthly team meetings, or in work units.'

Facilities Services Manager

Catering staff can benefit significantly from customer service training which, along with improved knowledge of food and health, will provide them with the skills and confidence to positively influence young people in food choices. They will further benefit from training in the characteristics of sustainable food and how this is reflected in school menus, good resource management, waste reduction, effective marketing, as well as the core skills of food preparation, presentation and hygiene.

Did you know … that the statutory nutrient standards for school lunches have been calculated to ensure that the school lunch provides a third of the daily nutritional requirements of primary and secondary school pupils?

Developing a relevant training facility

'Like every local authority we know it is challenging to be able to release staff from their positions for training and that in order to be effective, any training we offer must be relevant and interesting. We have considered this in developing our training academy. It allows eight staff to participate in a practical training session, and includes a spacious training room for theory-based learning. Feedback has been good - all our staff know about the academy and look forward to attending training, we are seeing a growing demand for practical sessions and hear that staff are seeing the benefit of leaving their kitchens for the day. They also have a greater understanding of the importance of children eating fresh, quality food, which helps them support the changes we have made to help us reach that goal, and we see their enthusiasm and knowledge passed on to other, frontline staff.'

Facilities Services Manager

Training and support for teaching practitioners

Access to good quality training opportunities offers practitioners the support to develop confidence to use food in their teaching, as well as to enhance their own understanding of food and nutrition and health. Education Scotland has developed a resource and support materials for teachers which focuses on health and wellbeing, in particular the Food and Health and Technologies experiences and outcomes. [43] Some local authorities have also developed their own guidance documents around food and health which, for example, show cross-curricular links, resources available and partnership working opportunities.

School and local authority catering staff and/or catering partners will have a wealth of expertise which can help increase the knowledge and confidence of practitioners and improve partnership working. Also, working with industry partners on food education projects can provide Career Long Professional Learning ( CLPL) opportunities for practitioners as can working with other partners - see the example of a health and wellbeing partnership in Section 3: Food and Health, and the example below. Further information is available on the resource page. [44]

Continuing Professional Development: Using the Healthier Scotland Cooking Bus to build teacher confidence

'Our school is in an area of high social deprivation and some children had never been to the countryside. After running a farm visit, I wanted children, and their families, to learn how to prepare healthy recipes using local, seasonal produce, so we applied for The Cooking Bus. Over the four-day visit over 100 children were taught new life skills and teachers and others learnt a lot too.

'The Continuing Professional Development sessions were excellent in bringing together teachers from our own Area Schools Group alongside other professionals and parents and carers. We left these sessions with a greater understanding of food, nutrition and health to be embedded in our curriculum planning and school development policies. It helped us all to have a more 'can do' approach to teaching health and wellbeing through healthy eating.'

'After the Bus left the staff reflected on our experiences - it was all so positive. We have since worked with pupils on projects, for example about food waste and farm shops, seen children bring in food that they had prepared at home with family members, and I have plans to start up a cooking 'after school' club. The experience has inspired and given real confidence to staff to build cooking into their curriculum planning as they see the benefits to our children, particularly the most vulnerable.' Primary School Headteacher

Did you know … that additional salt must not be provided in schools?

How are CPD opportunities planned to best meet the needs of staff in designing and delivering food-related experiences?

Sharing skills and knowledge

Whilst there has been much success in bringing the provision of school food together with learning around food and health there is further scope to bring the two together to improve the quality of learning provided. School health and wellbeing policies need to exemplify how the experience and skills within school communities can best be shared and show how the inter-relationship between the education, health and social policies impact on health and wellbeing.

Bringing teachers and caterers together to learn and develop can help forge partnerships, increase understanding of each other's roles and build staff confidence.

When bringing people together for training, it is important not to exclude groups of staff or partners unintentionally. A training event or meeting at lunchtime might suit teaching staff but would preclude most catering staff from attending.

Did you know … that there are 16 National Outcomes which describe what the Government wants to achieve? See Annex D.

To what extent do catering staff and teachers understand and utilise the knowledge and skills each brings to food education?

Part of a bigger picture

The policy context for school food and drink and the opportunities this presents have changed significantly with the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence. It is therefore essential that schools and their local authorities carry out a 'stocktake', if they haven't recently done so, of their activities around school food and its contribution to health and wellbeing and how these activities link to both local policies and national objectives. [45]

It is important too for everyone to understand how their role contributes to local and national policies and to receive the training and support they need to perform their role effectively. Often staff will be contributing to a range of outcomes without knowing it - 'just doing my job' - and they may not see how they personally impact on the health and wellbeing of children and young people. Specific development opportunities and needs will depend on a multitude of factors, including local needs and circumstances, but the key point is that schools and local authorities look afresh at their approach to development and how it supports the delivery of good school food and food education to children and young people. This will include providing staff with relevant diversity and equality training to equip them to interact with the diverse range of children and young people they meet in the course of their work.

Did you know … The 2013 Healthy Living Survey showed an increase in school meal uptake for the fourth year in a row, with 49.5% of pupils across Scotland taking school meals?

Catering staff - from cooks and counter staff, to those responsible for the strategic direction of the service - require a fuller understanding of the new context that has emerged for school food and how this is a determinant for the success of a range of national outcomes and local authority objectives. They need to understand that school food, while necessarily operating to tight commercial targets, is foremost a health and education service, and supported to deliver this.

Curriculum for Excellence, and national policies related to health improvement, the wellbeing of communities, and sustainable development, show how school food is directly relevant to delivering a better Scotland.

To what extent are school and catering staff supported to ensure they have a shared understanding of the relationship between food and health?

Did you know … the Chefs@School initiative, run by the Federation of Chefs Scotland, matches professional chefs and cooks with schools?

Improving the school food service through investment in people

'Well-trained staff will help us to achieve our overall aim of improving uptake of school meals. But four years ago a self-assessment showed that a lack of investment in staff had resulted in disaffected and disillusioned staff that was impacting the school food service. We had to do something. We introduced an appraisal system and then arranged for one of the catering management team to incorporate the role of training officer in their duties. Combining these initiatives allowed us to develop a training plan through a collaborative approach with the local college.

'We went on to identify the key business objectives that would enable us to become a sustainable and continually improving service. After a full business analysis we developed a plan. It's updated annually and incorporates staff appraisal, training and welfare as well as other areas such as finances and investment. Our efforts have led to:

  • improved school meal uptake in both Primary and High school sectors for the past five years;
  • a sustainable business model that has allowed continual investment into both the infrastructure and staff;
  • 381 qualifications passed ranging from elementary hygiene to full degrees in business management;
  • our appraisal system adopted by the wider council; and
  • our business plan identified as a model of good practice.

'Although we have seen considerable success we still believe in regular self-assessment. We continually look to improve our service by working with others, sharing good practice, collaborative approaches and respect for all.'

Head of Catering


Email: Lynne Carter,

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