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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May 2005, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
School meals watchdogs appointed
Suzi Leather
Suzi Leather says pupils must not be harmed by poor school food
Suzi Leather has been appointed as the first chair of the body set up by the government to improve school meals.

She will lead the new School Meals Review Panel - which will set compulsory nutritional standards.

The panel has been created following widespread concern over poor-quality school meals - highlighted in a Jamie Oliver television series.

"No one should live a shorter or unhealthier life because they ate school food," said Ms Leather.

The School Meals Review Panel, meeting for the first time on Monday, will be expected to develop "tough minimum nutrition standards for primary and secondary schools".

Food advice

These nutritional standards will be given to schools from this autumn - and will be made mandatory by autumn 2006.

No child should be bamboozled into eating a diet which harms them
Suzi Leather, chair of the School Meals Review Panel

"No child should disrupt their and others' learning because they are hungry and cannot concentrate. No child should leave school knowing only how to open a packet or tin," said Ms Leather, who currently chairs the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

"No child should be bamboozled into eating a diet which harms them. Standards for school food should be the best we can do, not the most we can get away with," said Ms Leather, a former deputy chair of the Food Standards Agency.

The panel will provide expert advice for a "major revision" in the type of food served in schools, including a reduction in fat, salt and sugar and an increase in fruit and vegetables.

It will also look at whether unhealthy types of food or ingredients should be restricted or entirely removed from school meals - and how decisions about using fresh ingredients could affect costs.

Improving behaviour

Ms Leather will also be the interim chair of the School Food Trust, which from later this summer will provide expert advice on school meals - and will include representatives of caterers, nutritionists, schools and parents.

Working with Ms Leather will be food consultant, Rob Rees, and Chris Dean, head teacher of Icknield High School, Luton. The school has linked nutrition with improvements in behaviour and academic results.

The government has been under pressure to find ways to ensure that healthier school meals are available - a task made more difficult by the wide range of private and public sector catering providers.

"We are committed to transforming the food that is offered to pupils in our schools. Tough minimum nutrition standards developed by experts will support our significant investment to guarantee a minimum spend on ingredients, so that high-quality healthy food is on every child's plate," said the Schools Minister, Jacqui Smith.

From September, the government says it will be providing 220m for schools and local authorities so that they can spend at least 50p on ingredients per pupil per day for primary schools, and 60p in secondary schools.

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