A loophole that lets nearly 2,500 academies and free schools off the hook over signing up to healthy school meals should be closed as part of the government’s forthcoming strategy to tackle childhood obesity said council leaders.
According to the Local Government Association (LGA) more than one million pupils go to academies and free schools that opened between 2010 and 2014. These schools or academies have not signed up to the standards followed by other council-maintained schools and academies that opened between 2008 and 2010.
The LGA claimed that 2,476 or nearly two thirds of the 3,896 academies and free schools have failed to sign up to voluntary rules issued to more than a year ago.
The government brought in the new voluntary rules to drive up nutritional standards and ensure pupils eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet at lunchtime.
The Department of Education (DFE) brought in the voluntary sign up in January 2014 for the academies, rather than bringing in “cumbersome” new legislation.
However the LGA said the voluntary rules means that the academies can escape restrictions on providing pupils with fried or pastry-based food and sugary drinks at a time when 3.5 million school children are obese.
The schools that fail to sign up to the rules are also exempt from ensuring that school children are served at least one daily portion of vegetables or salad with their school dinner.
Councils that are responsible for public health said it is not right that there are rules for some schools but not all.
The LGA said more than half of the 2010-14 intake of new academies get funding from the DFE to provide free school meals for infants.
Izzi Seccombe, who is leader of Warwickshire county council and speaks on wellbeing issues for the LGA, said: “It is deeply worrying that hundreds of academies and free schools are yet to commit to providing healthy school meals to children, more than a year since they were first asked to sign up to new school food standards by government.”
She added: “Councils are responsible for tackling childhood obesity and poor diet as part of our public health responsibilities, which is why we want academies and free schools that opened between 2010 and 2014 to formally agree to the school meal standards that are mandatory to every other school.”