School catering staff feel excluded, undervalued and poorly trained


Over a third of school caterers feel excluded as members of staff and more than a quarter feel undervalued, a survey has revealed.

Research by the trade union Unison found that 35 per cent of kitchen staff felt excluded in their schools, and 27 per cent admitted they didn’t feel valued within the school meals team.

A further 13 per cent were concerned about bullying at work from managers and 10 per cent worried about bullying from colleagues.

In November and December 2017, Unison surveyed 1,220 kitchen staff working across the UK in primary, secondary and special schools, as well as at pupil referral units.

“We don’t feel part of the school as a whole. We have to cook for two schools, one of which is not our own, to keep our jobs and the department financially viable,” one respondent told the union.

The research also showed that a third of the kitchen staff surveyed had not received any training in the past year. Participants reported being expected to complete “mandatory training in our own time”, and having “no training opportunities” because there was “no money available”.

“Every day more children with allergies are coming into school … we are expected to deal with all situations with no training,” said one response.

Respondents said they wanted the opportunity to learn more about first aid, food hygiene, health and safety, management, food allergies, cooking skills and nutrition.

free school meals

In light of these findings, Unison is calling for all school meals staff “to be trained in the school food standards, to ensure all schools are providing nutritious and healthy meals”.

The union wants to see employers providing “well-resourced training and development for school meals staff”, to ensure “a confident and content workforce that is well equipped to meet modern demands”.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it is becoming harder for schools to influence the training and development of kitchen staff, as many are now employed by subcontractors.

“When choosing a school meals provider, schools should identify companies that demonstrate a commitment to training and developing their employees,” he said.

Even though a fifth of respondents earn the national minimum wage and another fifth hold down a second job, one in three kitchen staff also said they worked between two and five hours of unpaid overtime every week.

Unison wants to see all employers responsible for school meals to “stop overburdening kitchen staff”.

“It’s disgraceful that some of the lowest-paid employees in our education system are doing hours of unpaid overtime every week just to keep our school kitchens running and the nation’s school children fed,” said Ruth Levin, Unison’s national officer for education and children’s services.

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