When recruiting staff and students ahead of Aureus School’s opening, I had to make some big decisions early on about whether we would contract out our cleaning and catering or take some of these operations in-house. I decided it was too much in our first year to try and do both ourselves, but wanted to establish food education as part of our culture from day one, so I chose to embed this in our foundations.
Research shows that healthy children learn better. We are committed to ensuring that every student has access to an excellent quality meal as an integral part of each school day, enjoyed in a family dining style, where students and staff will sit together and share experiences.
Our vision at Aureus is to educate the whole child through offering a holistic education that includes mindful mornings, values-led leadership and global citizenship. We want our food education and our food culture to equally empower, educate and inspire our students to prepare them for successful lives.
Every parent, teacher and school surely wants children to be healthy and happy, but do we really offer meaningful food education? I’m sure we’ve all worked in establishments where students arrive in the morning eating crisps and consuming energy drinks; bulk buy sweets to sell to their friends at break time; skip lunchtime meals to play football; and rush out of the gate at the end of the day to buy chicken and chips.
Moreover, most of us will have experienced schools where staff often don’t get to eat at all. At Aureus, all of our staff and students eat a hot nutritious meal together every day. Everyone has a role – the students lay the table and serve each other, and all staff stop what they’re doing and sit down to eat alongside them. We sit at the same tables for six weeks at a time, and thus get to really know each other.
It’s our ambition to ensure that every Aureus student leaves our school with not only the practical skills to look after themselves, make great food choices and understand the importance of food in their lives – but also passionate about good food and with an understanding of how to eat well, no matter their budget.
Over the past year, we’ve endeavoured to have our teachers and food services team collaborate on delivering our National Curriculum requirements, and have developed an after-school offer where children can learn how to grow and cook their own food, supported by a school garden.
We regularly hear from staff and students that our community time and family dining service is their favourite part of each day. For me, that’s a beautiful confirmation that our values are absolutely at the heart of everything we do.
A report recently published by the Soil Association has criticised the government’s School Fruit and Veg scheme for 4- to 6-year-olds, accusing it of spending £40 million on ‘Teaching kids to dislike fruit and veg’ due to the low quality produce children are presented with. According to Rob Percival, the organisation’s head of food policy, “Data shows that it contains higher pesticide residues than equivalent produce found on supermarket shelves, including pesticides associated with a negative effect upon children’s cognitive development.”
For the second year running, The Royal Borough of Greenwich has found itself top of the ‘Good Food for London’ league table, which charts the progress of London’s 33 boroughs in making the city’s food system healthier and more sustainable. As well as working to tackle poor nutrition among residents, the past year saw Royal Greenwich tackle ‘holiday hunger’ by providing free, nutritious meals to children when not in school and unable to access free lunches.
Hannah Wilson is headteacher of Aureus School in Didcot and co-founder of #WomenEd.