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Supporting schools to champion sustainability - the DfE's new draft strategy

From increasing sustainable school meals, to offering nature-focussed education, the Department for Education's strategy has given us food for thought.

The Department for Education released a draft of their strategy on environmental sustainability in education settings in England with action steps from now until 2030. It’s an incredibly wide-reaching and forward-thinking vision and if they can pull it off, it would provide fantastic support for schools, teachers, caterers and young people, building resilience and empowering individuals and communities to tackle and respond to the climate crisis. 

So, with Food for Life in mind, what’s already being done, what can we expect and what more would we like to see?

Routes to sustainable food in schools

The DfE strategy aims to embed sustainability across the organisation and within schools. Food forms part of this plan and by 2023 DfE will have considered how ‘to support schools to increase take up in sustainable school meals.’ And, by 2025 the School Food Standards will have been updated to include the impact of food emissions on the environment.

Food for Life silver and bronze School Awards already require schools to increase uptake of school meals, including free school meals. An evaluation report on Food for Life flagship schools revealed that the programme had supported increased uptake in school meals.

As there are over 1.2 million children living in poverty still not eligible for free school meals, we’ve been asking Government to expand the eligibility criteria. While the Autumn budget didn’t commit to any extension, it’s great to see DfE prioritising increasing school meal uptake.

Food for Life schools are already on the road to sustainable food with caterers meeting and going beyond the School Food Standards. Food for Life cooks and caterers serve fresh, healthy choices with lots of fresh fruit and veg. They are encouraged to source local, seasonal and higher quality, including organic produce and higher welfare meat which all contribute to more sustainable menus. The Soil Association is also partnered with Let’s Go Zero, supporting schools in taking action to fight climate change through a number of recommendations including through food and education. 

To learn more about how Food for Life is making Britain healthier through food, read our 2021 Impact report

Valuing nature

By viewing the whole of the education estate as a National Education Nature Park, the strategy looks to increase biodiversity within the school grounds. 

By 2023, it aims to increase access to nature, change the curriculum to include nature focussed classes and offer additional qualifications in agriculture and horticulture for 16+ year olds. Inspiring the next generation to value nature will not only benefit our planet but also support physical and mental health. 

What is missing here is the significance of food growing in schools. Growing food and understanding where it comes from develops life skills and is something Food for Life supports schools with through the school award from an early age. 

Upskilling for the future

By 2022, the strategy will support teachers in continuing professional development and by 2030 England will have the ‘best trained, best supported teachers in the world’ providing classes on the latest climate and sustainability developments. For students, the Climate Leaders Award (name still subject to consultation) will provide a framework for young people to be empowered to drive positive action and help young people learn skills that might be useful in future jobs to work towards a more sustainable future. 

While the strategy supports teaching staff and young people, the strategy fails to acknowledge the professional development needed for school cooks and caterers to build resilience and adaptation to the climate crisis. It also doesn’t build in reviews for the school food standards to ensure regular updates on nutritional and sustainable criteria as scientific research develops.

The Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change has published the strategy, including the full action list here. 



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