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Caterers’ experiences and perceptions of implementing the 2006 school meal standards

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School meal standards were introduced in 2006 (Department for Education and Skills) and caterers are expected to comply with these standards. No research has been conducted looking at the caterer's experiences and perceptions of implementing these standards. This area has 32 school meal provider organisations for 103 schools. Half the schools are with one provider and the others are, mostly, single-handed in-house operations, often managed by a local community member. The aim of the current study was to explore caterers’ understanding of the school meal standards, the barriers to implementation, and proposed solutions, to inform local practice. Methods: 

A combined quantitative and qualitative design was used. A questionnaire was used to assess understanding and implementation of the standards and distributed to all the catering provider organisations (n = 32), with a good response rate of 78% (n = 25). For each question about achievement of the ten food-based standards the responses were scored 0–4 where: 0 = ‘Do not intend to achieve this standard’; to 4 = ‘Fully achieved’. This gave a total standards achievement score for each catering provider organisation, where the minimum score that could be achieved was zero which indicated the minimum level of achievement and the maximum score which could be achieved was forty which indicated all ten standards fully achieved. Four focus group were undertaken involving 40 people who considered themselves to be in a management role within a catering provider organisation. Semi structured interviews were undertaken with 11 people (until saturation), using purposive sampling, to explore barriers and solutions to implementation of the standards in detail. Descriptive and appropriate inferential statistics (Fisher's Exact tests and independent samples t-tests) were performedon the datausingStatistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). The process undertaken for the qualitative analysis was thematic analysis, and used analytic hierarchy ( Richie & Lewis, 2003). Approval for this study was obtained from Leeds Metropolitan University ethics committee. Results: 

The qualitative discussions led to caterers’ identifying two main themes. These were: support from various groups, and the roles and responsibilities caterers believed these groups had and should be performing in order to achieve successful implementation of the standards ‘Think it's good someone's shaken up school meals but who is doing the actually work it's us isn't it’.(Semi structured interview respondent medium primary provider) ‘I’ve found it really difficult as I’m on my own at the school, totally on my own without anyone to help’. (Focus group participant primary school group). The groups that caterers identified as those who had roles and responsibilities and who should be providing support were the ‘whole school’; catering provider organisations; parents; the local authority; and, the broader environment/whole population. Caterers felt the standards had ‘gone too far too soon’ and did not allow choice. Caterers felt finances were a barrier, and that training was required across all sectors to achieve success. The standards implementation achievement score were statistically higher for caterers who had received formal training compared with those with only food and hygiene (P = 0.001); and, between caterers who provided to a secondary school as opposed to a primary school only (P = 0.034). There was a statistically significant relationship between providers and qualifications with those providing to secondary schools more likely to have had formal qualifications (P = 0.015). Discussion: 

Caterers felt all those involved in schools and school meals needed to undertake their roles and responsibilities, to provide support, and, to implement the ethos of a whole school approach. The caterers in this study identified many barriers and practical obstacles either experienced or perceived to implementing the new school meals standards. Conclusions: 

The results will be used to inform the Local Authority and Primary Care Trust to ensure the effective implementation of the school meal standards. There may be opportunity to transfer these results to other school caterers, and to develop support and training to assist implementation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2008

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