Experience delivering vital school meals in Scotland and America to be shared in significant transatlantic knowledge exchange event

Politicians, experts and education practitioners from the United States and Scotland will gather today in a significant online event to share learning about how school meal provision can help combat child poverty, increase food security, and promote healthy eating habits in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It comes at a crucial time, with the World Food Program’s latest report, The State of School Feeding Worldwide, highlighting the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the loss of access to school meals for millions of vulnerable children across the globe.

The event, “International Actions on School Meals in Times of Crisis: A USA/Scotland Knowledge Exchange on School Meals and COVID-19”, will see leading Scottish political, health and academic figures share promising practice and learning from Scotland.  They will also hear from their American counterparts about the approach officials in the States have taken to school meal provision, with the aim of better understanding how the impact of school meals can be maximised in both countries.

Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney will deliver a pre-recorded address to the assembled audience of 500 American and Scottish delegates, including Cindy Long, the senior US government administrator leading federal child nutrition programmes in America.  Other leading national and local education and nutrition figures from both countries will also share their experience delivering vital meals.

The event, which is being hosted by the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at Glasgow Caledonian University and supported by the Poverty and Inequality Commission, takes place on the eve of International School Meals Day, itself the outcome of an earlier knowledge exchange initiative between the two nations. It also comes as new research is published today by SPIRU and the Poverty and Inequality Commission which examines a number of good practice case studies in school meal provision by schools across Scotland (report attached).

Lindsay Graham, Commissioner with the Poverty and Inequality Commission, said: “Over the last 10 years, colleagues working in the school meal programmes from the USA and Scotland have been involved in exchanging ideas on policy and practice.  The pandemic has highlighted similar challenges faced by school meal providers on both sides of the Atlantic. The similarity of both our nations legislative aims to improve children’s health and wellbeing through good nutrition has never been more important than it is today. So, it is a timely opportunity for information sharing regarding the future of this vital community service especially given the pressures on families and schools.”

Glasgow Caledonian University professor John McKendrick said: “School food plays a critical role in tackling child food poverty in Scotland.  There are many examples of innovative practice in Scottish schools, and there is political will to strengthen the service. But challenges remain. Uptake of lunchtime meals is not as high as we would like and there is uncertainty about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on school dining.  Scotland aspires to be the best small country in the world.  To be a world leader in school dining, we need to showcase what works well in Scotland, and learn from others through exchanges such as this international seminar.”

Commenting, John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, added: “The availability of balanced and nutritious food as part of the school day can play an important part in supporting the health and wellbeing of our children and young people. As a result of the pandemic, that provision has had to adapt to new circumstances and challenges over the past year. This international seminar is an opportunity to look at school food through the lens of the pandemic and to share our plans and learning on the role it will play during our recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.”

Cindy Long, Child Nutrition Programs Deputy Administrator at U.S. Department of Agriculture said: “The United States and Scotland has a long history of working together on this vital issue.  International School Meals Day was borne out of an initiative between our two governments and together we can set a positive example to nations across the world on the importance of school meal provision.  There is much we can learn from each other and I look forward to further opportunities to share knowledge and best practice.”

The event marks the latest collaboration between the Poverty and Inequality Commission and SPIRU on food insecurity issues.  Further related events are scheduled for later this year.