Doing it for the boys

Doing it for the boys

A male chef has taken the title of LACA School Chef of the Year for the first time in the competition’s 20-year history. Jane Renton reports from SCOTY 2018 and the LACA Spring Seminar.

Concern over the lack of women chefs in more senior positions and as chefs is rife in hospitality. But there is no shortage of females in school kitchens, where they dominate. In a year when gender equality, or lack of it, is under the public spotlight, it seems entirely appropriate that a man should triumph in this year’s LACA School Chef of the Year (SCOTY) contest.

Michael Goulston is believed to have been the first male to win in the competition’s 20-year history. He came first in the national final at Stratford upon Avon College on 8th March, where he competed against nine other regional finalists. It was his second attempt at the top title: he came second in the same contest last year, sponsored by Maggi, part of Nestlé Professional. His victory, on which this year’s judges were apparently unanimous, marks an infusion of new talent into the industry. Many have been attracted from other parts of the hospitality industry into school meal provision as standards rise and the sector moves up the political agenda.

A professional chef with close on 30 years’ experience working in restaurants, corporate and private school catering, he now works as a mobile cook manager for Hertfordshire Catering Limited (HCL), serving between 300 and 600 meals from Peartree Spring Primary School in Hertfordshire. He has been a school chef for just five years.

His winning meal was a main course of chicken stuffed with herb mousseline, potato gnocchi, broccoli and roasted carrots en papillote. His dessert was a coconut cheesecake, with pineapple and strawberry compote, with a tuile biscuit.

Michael said he planned to used his title to help raise the profile of school meals still further during his one-year reign as SCOTY victor.
“Hopefully I can make an impact within school catering and cooking for children,” he said.

The finals

SCOTY 2018 winner
Michael Goulston, Peartree Spring Primary School, Stevenage (East of England region)

Second place
Justyna Rutkowska, Birchwood C of E Primary School, Warrington (North West region)

Third place
Abdul Mahdoul, Walbottle Campus, Newcastle upon Tyne (North East and Scotland region)

Finalists
Donna Spiers, Alderman White Academy, Nottingham (East Midlands region)
Michelle Creed, Broadford Primary School, Romford (London region)
Ouafa Bahloul, Bandon Hill Primary School, Carshalton, Surrey (South East region)
Tracey Ford, Gillingham Comprehensive School, Gillingham, Dorset (South West region)
Leanne Rees-Sheppard, Tremains Primary School, Bridgend, (Wales region)
Tanya Malone, Southam Primary School, Southam, Warwickshire (West Midlands region)
Amanda Phillips, Bentley High Street Primary School, Doncaster (Yorkshire and Humber region)

LACA Spring Seminar

The following day, LACA hosted its spring seminar where the topic of the day was the research into the impact of Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) it commissioned the Education Policy Institute (EPI) to carry out last year.

Natalie Perera, head of research at EPI, presented the key findings to delegates, which was followed by a panel debate including Perera, LACA chair Tim Blowers, James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, Dr Michael Nelson, director of PHN Research, and Darren Byford, food business manager at YPO.

A key issue raised by the industry panel was the constant threat to the sustainability of the UIFSM policy through the lack of a mechanism with which to raise the current UIFSM rate from £2.30 in line with inflation.

“My concern is that we were already seeing food costs increasing, even before Brexit and although we want to see [UIFSM] continuing, is it sustainable at £2.30 a meal?” Perera told attending delegates.

The UIFSM price has been pegged at £2.30 ever since the policy was introduced by the coalition government in the summer of 2014, with no legislative mechanism through which to increase it.

While research undertaken by EPI on behalf of LACA indicates that only a small proportion of schools have reported an increase in school food deficits and that Department for Education (DfE) funding has so far been generally adequate, over time the current rates are likely to become inadequate.

One delegate in the audience warned that the government only had to stand back and not increase the level of funding for UIFSM to see the policy crumble. There was also an issue of quality, which was flagged up as part of the EPI study.

Perera acknowledged that schools were in a very difficult economic cycle, but that the school catering industry needed to champion quality: “To be financially sustainable [UIFSM] needs to be popular with parents, but to increase quality you need funding.”

If this projection transpires, and if funding rates are not altered, the net costs to schools – and the existing impacts on wider curriculum delivery and school staff time – will be increased.

Panellist James Bielby was keen to highlight the importance of UIFSM on his sector, saying that it had increased total sales to primary schools by some 17%.

“The wholesaling industry has employed 250 extra people as a result of UIFSM – that is a good message for politicians,” he said.

But the benefits did not end there and could be multiplied throughout the local and wider UK economy.

“We really need to focus on economic impacts, because that is what the UK government is really interested in,” he said.

Jury still out over UIFSM

The most expensive research ever commissioned by LACA into the benefits of Universal Infant Free School Meals, which the government has attempted to axe on two occasions in the last 24 months, is inconclusive in two key areas, according to EPI.

In the absence of any control groups, it was “difficult to draw definite conclusions”, Perera told delegates.

That absence, combined with a lack of comparative Key Stage 2 data, with which to compare the research, made it difficult to draw any definite conclusions, though “useful points came out of it”, she said. There had also been a lot of other intervention in schools, which made it hard to pin-point all improvements solely on UIFSM.

While take-up had improved substantially, schools and caterers had incurred considerable costs in implementing the policy. Economic modelling of the policy, which is expected to cost £5bn over the next five years, suggested that when additional staff and costs were taken into account, there was a net economic benefit of £877m, but food price inflation, for example, could change this to an economic loss over 10 years, warned Perera.

Among the more worrying messages was the predicted knock-on effect on Pupil Premium/Free School Meal registration. Almost a third of school leaders reported a decrease in registration.

Anecdotally, surveyed teachers talked of an improvement in pupil behaviour, with a fifth of them saying that behaviour had improved along with ‘dining room etiquette’, but it was hard to say to what degree this was due to UIFSM policy, admitted Perera. Similarly, there was inconclusive evidence over health, one of the key objectives behind the policy.

“There were no advantages that we could attribute [to UIFSM], but there was positive feedback from schools,” she said.

Further research was needed, she concluded, adding that the more extensive research being planned by the University of Essex and funded by the Nuffield Trust, would be more far-reaching and hopefully more conclusive.