Food is back on Ofsted's menu

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Under the new framework inspectors will be required to assess the lifestyles of pupils. Joseph Lee reports

"The service is so hasty as to be slapdash. On the first day of the inspection the children wasted much of their meat; on the second the stew was so liquid that the distribution of meat was inequitable."

These words come from an inspection of a Watford junior school nearly 50 years ago - proving that this is not the first time inspectors have been asked to check children's diet.

While today's inspections are unlikely to share the 1955 inspectors'

concern about dessert forks, food is back on the agenda in the Office for Standards in Education's new framework for its staff.

How Ofsted will assess children's lifestyles will vary depending on the issues at each school, said a spokeswoman. But it could include exercise at play times, education on nutrition and diet.

She said: "Inspectors may also ask about the quality of school meals and the range of options."

Campaigners believe tough compulsory regulations on meals are needed if inspecting children's diet is to make a lasting difference. Voluntary guidelines currently say school meals should include fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, dairy produce and meat, fish and other protein in specified proportions through the week.

Charlie Powell, project officer for the Children's Food Bill campaign at the environmental charity Sustain, says that research shows many caterers have not even heard of the advice.

"It's a postcode lottery. If you recognise there is a crisis in children's diet-related health, the only conclusion is that all children should be able to enjoy these benefits," said Mr Powell.

John Chowcat, general secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants, said inspectors would need more training to deal with the "major issues" of exercise and diet.

School meal and lifestyle inspections are not the only changes in the new framework. In future inspectors will use schools' self-assessments to speed up visits, but Mr Chowcat said these self-evaluations would have to be closely monitored to ensure they were accurate.

He also questioned whether 250 HMIs would be able to cope with leading almost all of the inspections in the 23,000 schools in England, as Ofsted intends.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said the new emphasis on health and lifestyles could be jeopardised by the abolition of lay inspectors, often expert in the field.

A lay inspector herself, she said: "They're saying on the one hand, we want to develop the way we look at people's health and how they're being prepared as healthy citizens but on the other hand we are removing the mechanism to do it.

"A lot of the changes seem to be related to reductions in the budget."

Teachers have criticised the way self-evaluations are being used, arguing that inspectors are encouraged to focus their observations on weaker aspects. Redefining the "satisfactory" rating as pejorative has also angered schools.

Leader 22 Framework for Inspecting Schools is available from


* Quicker inspections taking place over a maximum of two days, with a shorter notice period.

* Inspections to take place every three years, or more frequently for troubled schools.

* Smaller inspection teams, usually led by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors.

* Greater emphasis on self-evaluation by the school.

* Common criteria for schools and colleges from early years to age of 19.

* Simplified four-point grading scale for assessments: outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate.

* "Serious weaknesses" and "inadequate sixth form" categories to be abolished and replaced by an "improvement notice".

* Inspections to evaluate the extent to which learners adopt safe practices and a healthy lifestyle.

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