Becoming a school catering manager

Other related titles are: school chef, catering assistant,general kitchen assistant, assistant unit manager, unit catering manager.

Jamie Oliver put the dinner lady in the public spotlight. Anyone who watched his TV series knows their vital roles they play in ensuring pupils are fed a nutritious lunch and the powerful impact this has on their learning. The dinner lady who inspired the programme was awarded an MBE. Catering staff are advertised for under more formal job titles but the essence of the job remains the same.


Catering manager: £25 - £35k depending on employer, hours and whether residential or not.

Assistant catering manager: £12k – 27k, depending on employer, hours and whether residential or not.
School Head Chef: £18- £30.


 A manager would be responsible for:

  • Planning menus in consultation with chefs;
  • Recruiting and training permanent and casual staff;
  • Ensuring health and safety regulations are strictly observed;
  • Budgeting and establishing financial targets and forecasts;
  • Monitoring the quality of the product and service provided;
  • Keeping financial and administrative records;
  • maintaining stock levels and ordering new supplies as required;
  • Liaising with suppliers and senior school management

An assistant would be involved in:

  • Preparing and cooking of vegetables and preparation of salads.
  • Assisting Cooks with preparation of main courses, sweets and sauces.
  • Serving food in an efficient, friendly manner.
  • Washing up kitchen equipment and tableware.
  • Setting out and putting away dining furniture.
  • Cleaning dining area and kitchen premises.
  • Cleaning kitchen equipment.
  • Cleaning outside kitchen area, including drains and dustbin area. 


The manager in charge would usually be full time but many of the other roles in school catering are part time ranging from 10-22 hours per week.


There are two routes in terms of qualification.

While the manager of the kitchen would be expected to be qualified, an assistant working part time could study in their spare time to progress their career in the school kitchen.

Skills and knowledge

  • Safe, hygienic and secure working environments
  • Food safety in catering
  • Effective team worker
  • Experience and enjoyment of working in schools
  • Strong stability – schools and pupils do not like change
  • Strong manager with good communication
  • Leadership skills and drive to maintain or improve standards

The upside

Feeding up to 1200 students or more and staff on a daily basis for lunch is no mean feat. If you are at a boarding school and do breakfast and dinner as well, you are truly at the heart of the establishment!

The downside

There’s a lot of routine and grind involved in keeping things safe and hygienic. And it may be discouraging when your healthy new initiatives are not received well by pupils hooked on fast food.

Best route in

Many mums who start out doing shifts have found this leads to a bigger rewarding career. And it’s always possible to branch out into the mainstream food and drink sector, although just don’t want to leave school.