School staff are increasingly monitoring the contents of their pupils’ packed lunches amid growing concern over obesity and unhealthy eating habits, new research shows.
According to a survey carried out by The Key, the support service for school leaders, 73 per cent of heads say they are concerned about pupil obesity, with 65 per cent saying their staff monitor pupils lunchboxes frequently or occasionally.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings.
“I hear about that a lot about teachers checking up on packed lunches, especially with certain children they are worried about,” he said.
“It’s not just because they are concerned pupils might be eating the wrong things, sometimes it’s about making sure they have more to eat than just a packet of crisps.
“I’ve even heard of teachers bringing their own supplies of fruit and healthy snacks in to school to make sure pupils are fed. Often it’s the only way of making sure some pupils get a good meal.”
In 2010 Ofsted warned that many parents saw schools as “bossy” or “interfering” when they told them what they can and can’t put in their children’s packed lunches.
The inspectorate also found heads often felt uneasy about bringing in rules on lunchboxes and did not want to patronise parents.
But today’s survey, which was carried out for National School Meals Week, found the vast majority of school leaders (93 per cent) believe schools must have an active role in promoting healthy eating, with 61 per cent saying that promoting healthy eating aids pupils’ learning.
Earlier this year, the government published its School Food Plan for England, which aims to increase the quality and take-up of school meals and develop a whole school food culture nationwide.
The Department for Education has invested £11.8 million to increase school meal take-up where it is lowest and £3 million to help set up breakfast clubs in the 500 schools that have more than 40 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said heads were "very concerned" about obesity and healthy eating, but added more needed to be done at home.
“Schools have a role to play in teaching young people about nutrition and healthy diets and encouraging healthy habits,” he said.
“That can be part of the ethos of the school. But there’s only so much schools can do and I don’t think the obesity issue can be cracked without the full support of parents.”
Fergal Roche, CEO of The Key, agreed adding that the survey showed school leaders were frustrated as it was parents that needed to change their children's eating habits.
“A pupil’s concept of what being healthy actually means is defined at home,” he said.
“The challenge to the school, therefore, is to change that definition in the minds of parents and carers – and to do so when the children are young.”