Schools and nurseries missing out on free and subsidised milk

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Too many primary schools and nurseries are unaware of the available programmes through which they can access free or subsidised milk for children.

It comes as research shows that while primary school pupils in Wales are given an average of 65 portions of milk a year, their peers in Scotland get 42 and in England the figure is just 19.

The research is from the School and Nursery Milk Alliance (SNMA) and was published to mark World School Milk Day on Wednesday (September 29). It is based on analysis of data from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Rural Payments Agency.

In England, the government’s School Food Standards (DfE, 2019) require lower fat milk or lactose reduced milk to be available to drink at least once a day during school hours.

In Wales, children aged five to seven are eligible to receive free milk funded by the Welsh government.

Scottish schools are permitted to provide skimmed, semi-skimmed and other lower fat milks, but unlike drinking water there is no requirement for it to be made available.

To help with the cost of providing milk, nurseries can take part in the Nursery Milk Scheme (or its Scottish equivalent) providing free milk to children under the age of five.

And schools in England, Scotland and Wales can apply to the School Milk Subsidy Scheme, which is managed and topped up by DEFRA and provides subsidised milk for all primary-age pupils attending state schools.

The School Milk Subsidy Scheme subsidises the cost of milk, certain milk products and yoghurts so that they can be sold to children at a lower price.

The SNMA – which is a coalition of organisations representing 90 per cent of the suppliers of milk to educational settings – is calling for government to ensure that schools and nurseries are able to access the free or subsidised healthy milk to which their pupils are entitled. It says that “far too many schools and nurseries are unaware of the different available programmes that could be giving their pupils free healthy milk”.

It points to an evidence review by Northumbria University showing that drinking milk may support immediate and lasting dental and bone health in primary-age children with potential positive effects on preventing childhood obesity. The research showed that milk may also support children’s cognition, particularly when served as a mid-morning snack as its consumption staves off hunger.

Spokesperson for the SNMA, Dr Hilary Jones, said: “Regularly drinking milk could improve health outcomes for children and yet millions are missing out through a simple lack of awareness. There are numerous programmes available for children in schools and nurseries to access free healthy milk and yet the take up is shockingly low.

“World School Milk Day 2021 is the perfect opportunity for the government to make sure that UK schools and nurseries are aware of the different schemes that exist and encourage them to take the next step and sign up so that millions of school children across the country are able to drink free healthy milk. “

Jon Thornes, chair of the SNMA, added: “Congratulations to Wales for leading the way in providing the most milk per child across the UK. But despite this success, far too many children across the UK are still going without healthy and nutritious milk. We urge all UK nations to follow Wales’s lead and do more to ensure that as many children as possible receive milk at school.”

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