Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, recently visited the ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ programme at Rickleton Cricket Club, Washington.
The ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ programme, which is funded by the Department for Education’s Holiday Activity and Food Programme, has been supporting children and young people with a range of fun activities and food throughout the summer holidays.
The ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ bus has been travelling around Sunderland bringing different activities to different areas across the city.
On Wednesday when Sharon visited, the children were taking part in a huge range of activities including smoothie making, boxing, boot camp and circus skills. There was also lots of hot and healthy food available.
The Holiday Activity and Food Programme was announced in 2020 by the Department for Education. It provides funding to Local Authorities. The funding covers Easter, summer and Christmas holidays in 2021 only.
Speaking at the ‘Wear Here 4 Summer’ bus, Sharon said:
“It was great to see the children and young people enjoying the Wear Here 4 Summer programme. They’ve had some fantastic activities and delicious food over the school holidays.
“As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, I have been campaigning for many years for the Government to introduce funding for food and activities for children on the approximately 170 days a year when the school gates are shut.
“This programme will no doubt have had a positive impact on children across Sunderland this summer. That is why I believe the Government’s Holiday Activity and Food Programme should be available for all school holidays during the pandemic and beyond.”
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, Sharon welcomes the Government's recent announcement that they will invest £2 million to fund holiday hunger initiatives.
Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, said:
“I am thrilled that the Government have today announced the “Holiday activities and food research fund”. This will ensure that disadvantaged pupils benefit from a hot and healthy meal, like they do during the school day, during the school holidays.
This is something the APPG has been looking at since 2013 and what campaigners and I have been calling for for a number of years now. This has been a long time coming as too many children return to school after the holidays tired and malnourished as they haven’t eaten properly for weeks.
I am pleased that the Government have now opened their eyes to the ever growing problem of holiday hunger, and will support organisations in their delivery of meals during the holidays.”
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon has published a cross-party supported position paper on packed lunches in schools which comes ahead of the publication of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy.
The position paper sets out the need for the Government to consider the introduction of a holistic, non-mandatory packed lunch standards framework as part of the ‘whole school approach’ to food in schools and to help address childhood obesity by consulting with children, parents, teachers, unions and the catering sector.
The APPG also recommends that providing parents and schools with new resources, or raising awareness of existing resources, on a healthy and affordable packed lunch – such as example menus and recipes – would be beneficial to the ‘whole school approach’ to food in schools and will go some way to help address family tensions and conflicts.
The APPG has identified that though hot and healthy school meals should be the way forward, there are still many children who go to school with a packed lunch. Analysis of data by the APPG shows that packed lunches are eaten by nearly 56.5% of pupils in Key Stage 2; however, as identified in the School Food Plan from 2013, only 1% of packed lunches meet nutritional standards.
The APPG believes that non-mandatory guidelines should be in place that ensure children are eating healthy food which allows parents and teachers to buy into this ethos to address this disparity. The APPG’s position paper also supports the House of Common’s Health Select Committee’s Childhood Obesity; Brave and Bold Action report which called for standards for packed lunches.
The introduction of a standards framework has been welcomed by head teachers, with 90% of head teachers surveyed in a study by Taylor Shaw in 2015 showing that head teachers welcomed support to encourage parents to send their children to school with a healthy packed lunch.
A case study from Leeds showed evidence of family tension due to unclear guidance on what kinds of food should and should not be included in a packed lunch with one child on free school meals quoted as saying: “It’s unfair they [children on packed lunches] can eat chocolate in their packed lunches [and] I have to have my free school meal.”
The support for packed lunch standards comes as part of the wider debate around the burgeoning crisis of childhood obesity and the Government’s pending Childhood Obesity Strategy which seeks to address the issue of 1 in 5 children in reception class being classed as overweight which then rises to 1 in 3 by the time they reach Year 6.
Following the publication of the position paper, Sharon said:
"Though we have made great strides forward in recent years to improve the quality of healthy food on offer in our schools, there is still a disparity between those children on healthy school meals and those who bring in a packed lunch.
"As a parent myself, I know all too well the on-going battle most mornings between a parent and a child to negotiate what food goes into a packed lunch and what constitutes healthy food. That is why the Government should help parents and teachers who want to support the ‘whole school approach’ on healthier eating by offering a clear standards framework for them to buy into so that children are eating healthy food, regardless of whether on school meals or packed lunches. This will not only benefit a child's education, but also their behaviour, wellbeing and health.
“There is no better moment than now, with the upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy’s publication in the coming weeks ahead, to ensure that packed lunches are considered by the Government as part of the wider, holistic package developed to help reverse the worrying trends of childhood obesity in this country.”
You can view the APPG's position paper here.