By now, the link between a nutritious diet and education outcomes, including attendance and attainment, is well established.
In the past couple of decades, there has been an abundance of research carried out on the role that school meals can play in a child’s education, as well as their health and wellbeing. Researching perhaps the most notable change in the delivery of health school meals, a 2009 study found a strong correlation between the introduction of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign and attainment in English, Maths and Science, as well as a reduction in health-related absences.
In early 2022, the government published its Levelling Up the United Kingdom agenda, a part of which focuses on improving educational standards nationwide. The goal is to see at least 90% of primary school children leave with the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030 - and the government notes the role that school meals play in achieving this.
Yet the uptake of school meals across the UK can vary widely, and there’s no denying that recent uncertainty has added another piece to an already complex puzzle.
In 2019, research carried out by LACA found that uptake of school meals varied significantly between KS1 and KS2, with average take up dropping from 79% to just 58% (combining both Free School Meals and paid meals). However, in September 2021, data showed that uptake of school meals was at just 70% of pre-pandemic levels in England - and a similar story was playing out in Scotland.
Finding ways of reaching more of your students with school meals has numerous benefits. Not only do your students gain access to a healthy meal, shown to boost their attendance, attainment and wellbeing, but your school also generates that all important revenue, which in turn means more resources available for other areas of education.
The question many schools are now asking themselves is, how do we increase the uptake of school meals?
Taking the intelligent approach
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first instinct for many is to address the issue with food. For example, schools may offer a wider selection of food, with more healthy alternatives or more expensive options.
What this approach fails to do is understand why students are not taking up school meals. The assumption is that the food needs to be better, but it doesn’t make any attempt to find any evidence to support that theory.
To make any successful change, you need to know your audience and understand their behaviours. What’s the difference between students who regularly access school meals, and those who do so on an adhoc basis? What’s holding back the families that have never accessed the service?
Answering all these questions requires data that can then be analysed to learn more about sales and payment trends. From this information, you can then start to design a catering service that works for your customers.
Knowing your audience
To start with, think about how you can segment your audience to understand certain types of customer better. For instance, you may find that segmenting them into groups depending on how often they access school meals provides a better opportunity to understand customer behaviours and motivators.
In this case, you’d split your audience into four groups:
You need to make sure you understand each group on their own merits to begin to piece together a pattern of behaviour and to understand how you can start to attract more of your audience to spend.
Think about questions like: what do the customers in segments 2 and 3 buy? When do they typically buy school meals, and what drives this? For those customers who never spend, is there a pattern among them that might explain why, and is there anything the school can do to provide them with alternatives?
Do this activity for students and families who pay for school meals, and those who access or are eligible for Free School Meals. Is there anything that is stopping those eligible from accessing the service?
Different audiences require different strategies
Now you have your audience segments, it’s time to start thinking about how to use the knowledge you’ve collected.
First things first; prioritise. It may seem obvious, but those who never spend or access school meals will require more attention and communication than those who access meals every day.
Go back to your data collection. Can you find any reason why these families never access school meals? If you can answer this question, your communications will be much more straightforward. For instance, you may need to clarify how school meals are paid for, or provide more information to some families about how allergies are handled.
Whatever the message, remember to be clear and concise in your communications. Make sure families know that you are there to answer any questions, and to make the process for the parents and students as easy as possible.
Finally, don’t forget to tailor your messaging depending on whether you’re talking to parents, or to students. In all likelihood, the motivation to access school meals will be different for your students compared to their parents, so make sure you can adapt your messaging accordingly.
Integrations with Pebble
Having a communications strategy in place is all well and good, but the key to its success lies in the way you use your data.
Bringing all the relevant data together, such as catering information and payments, can be frustrating. From searching for all relevant data, to duplication of entry and the potential for human error, the extra steps required to work around individual data silos can often lead to wasted resources and a substantial risk for mistakes.
At Pebble, we’ve designed our Tali solution to integrate with all the systems schools use to process and manage their money. This means all of the data you need to make your analysis a single, straight-forward task is in one place, exactly where you need it - taking the headache out of any manual data gathering.
Not only that, but the integrations in the Pebble system can conduct sales analysis, and analyse payment trends for you - leaving you to design a catering service that is truly in tune with your customer behaviour
For more information, talk to the Pebble team today.
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