HL Deb 12 October 2004 vol 665 cc118-21

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the evaluation by the Thomas Coram Research Unit and the National Foundation for Education Research of the National Healthy School Standard.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, we warmly welcome this report, which confirms the effectiveness of the National Healthy School Standard in improving the status, impact and outcomes of health-related work in schools. The Department of Health, together with the Department for Education and Skills and the Health Development Agency will jointly consider the recommendations arising from the evaluation and the implications of the findings for the next phase of the programme in the context of the children's national service framework and the forthcoming public health White Paper.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. Is she aware that this excellent scheme has very positive spin-offs in relation to not only health issues but truancy and behaviour in school? How are schools selected to take part in this scheme, and what further schools will be selected to do so?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the outcomes from this research evaluation, which is a joint evaluation conducted independently, were extremely positive. Apart from the outcome mentioned by my noble friend, we also found that young people in the healthy schools programme were less likely to have used drugs, less likely to watch excessive amounts of television and more likely to be responsible in their sexual relationships. These are positive results, and the schools think very highly of the programme.

We targeted schools where 20 per cent or more of children have free school meals, because such schools tend to be in disadvantaged areas and have a high proportion of disadvantaged children. By next year, we hope to have all schools in that category in the programme and to roll out the whole programme by 2010.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I should like to return for a moment to the earlier Question. In light of the growing obesity levels in children, affecting 8.5 per cent of six year-olds and 15 per cent of 15 year-olds, with the corresponding unacceptable costs to both individuals and the economy, what estimate has been made of the NHSS scheme's success in encouraging healthy eating both at home and at school?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, healthy eating programmes have been a large part of the programme as a whole. Schools which have taken part have looked at the food that is available to children across the school day, so we have some hard evidence of real benefits there. It goes along with all the other things we are trying to do to reduce obesity, such as the national fruit and vegetable scheme for four to six year-olds, increasing provision for school sport by £1 billion and generally raising awareness among young people of their health and how healthy eating makes for more effective learning.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, given the exceptionally high level of unintended teenage pregnancies in looked-after children and children in public care, and given that mental disorders in this group are four times higher than in the general population—seven times higher for children in children's homes—will the Government ensure that as this standard is implemented in future they will seek feedback not only from teachers and pupils but also from foster carers and residential childcare workers?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the noble Earl makes an important point. Schools which have looked-after children and are part of the healthy schools programme would, I am sure, make a specific effort to make sure that they benefited from the scheme. As the noble Earl has raised the teenage pregnancy strategy, I am pleased to say that we are making good progress towards reducing rates of pregnancy among teenagers within the 10-year time frame of the strategy. However, I think that schools would want to do many more things in relation to looked-after children. The healthy schools programme, which is about a good mental health environment as well as a good physical environment, is very much on track.

Baroness David

My Lords, does teacher training come up at all in the discussions?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, 3,000 teachers are undergoing continuing professional development as part of the personal health and social education curriculum. They are involved in and supporting the scheme and they are going on to develop their professional confidence in this area. We hope that that will have a cascading effect throughout schools.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, will the lessons that have been learnt from the healthy schools programme be rolled out and extended to the general provision of school meals?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, we are looking at the nutritional standard of school meals. As I have said, healthy eating is very much a part of the whole programme. We are reviewing nutritional standards because we are conscious that many school meals are high in fats, sugars and salt. In consultation with those who are developing the scheme, we are investing £1.1 million into finding ways of improving nutritional standards. We are working with teachers and training caterers and dinner ladies to be aware of these issues. Nutritional standards are very much part of the programme.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, has my noble friend visited the Foundling Museum in central London, which was recently reopened due the intervention, when he was Attorney-General, of Lord Williams of Mostyn? Is she aware that it contains the art collection gathered by Thomas Coram and illustrates the work that he did for education and children in the 18th century whose legacy is demonstrated in the Thomas Coram Research Unit of today?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am pleased to say that I have been to the Foundling Museum over many years. It has a fine collection. The Thomas Coram Research Unit has a deservedly high reputation for the pioneering work that it has done in developing policies for children. It was one of the joint authors of the evaluation report that I have been discussing with your Lordships this afternoon.

Earl Howe

My Lords, despite what she has said, was not the Minister rather struck by the fact that the evaluation carried out by the Thomas Coram Research Unit found no significant quantitative differences in outcome between those schools participating at level 3 of the NHSS and those schools which did not participate? Does that not put a value-for-money question mark over the £35 million which this programme has cost since 1999?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the noble Earl is right. There was not a direct, demonstrable relationship between academic achievement in schools in the scheme. That was because we have no baseline for the measurement. If the programme is reviewed, as it should be, in successive years on the basis of what we now know, we shall have some hard facts on it. It is always extremely difficult in education to make a causal relationship between what one puts in and what one takes out in terms of achievement. We should be aware of that. In terms of value for money, if noble Lords read what children say in the report about what they get out of taking part in the programme—a place where they are not bullied; a place where they feel comfortable and valued—as well as what has been achieved in terms of healthy eating and opportunities for sport and so on, I think they will agree with me that we are getting value for money.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, following the question of my noble friend Lady Sharp, is there a relationship between the amount of money available for school meals and their nutritional value?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the nutritional standards have been in place since 2001. We introduced them because we wanted to raise the quality of school meals. I cannot say anything about a potential relationship between nutritional value and the amount of money, but I am sure that children on free school meals, for example—we want to see all children who are eligible for them claiming them—would certainly be getting value for money.

Lord Laming

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this report and others indicate that the performance of schools should be evaluated on issues wider than simple examination results, important though they are?

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords, that is absolutely true. When we look at what constitutes a successful school, we look at far more than examination achievements. We look at the range of elements that make a school effective in terms of mental health, self-esteem, achievement in personal relationships and the widest possible variety of choices in the curriculum so that young people choose the careers that really suit them.

Lord Rea

My Lords, as well as insisting on the improved nutritional content of school meals—there are some excellent examples of good practice, but I think the Minister would agree that the general standard is pretty abysmal—can the Minister say whether nutritional education is forming part of the curriculum? If not, will the Government see that it does?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, a lot of information about nutritional values goes into the design and technology curriculum in terms of what we teach and how we teach it. The healthy schools programme puts a huge emphasis on healthy eating across the school day; for example, the new food in schools programme, to which we are committing £2 million, looks at the value of the healthy breakfast. Increasingly, schools want and are able to offer breakfast as a successful start to the day. In addition, we are looking at how school lunches can be improved and working with all the people involved in making them more nutritious and appetizing. Some schools have also worked out successful ways of reducing the amount of chips that are sold.

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