My Department commissioned UCD, in April 2018, to carry out research to identify the barriers to the uptake of the School Milk Scheme.
The background to this decision is that the EU School Milk Scheme merged with the EU School Fruit and Vegetables Scheme on 1 August 2017 to form a Single School Scheme under a joint EU legal and financial framework. Under this new Regulatory framework, Ireland submitted a six-year Statement of Strategy for the implementation of the School Scheme in Ireland covering the period 1 August 2017 -31 July 2023. As regards the School Milk Scheme, my Department as the Competent Authority stated its key objective was to halt the decline in the participation in the School Milk Scheme in Ireland. Participation had decreased over 50% in the eight school years preceding the 2017/18 school year.
The research identified a number of reasons for the decrease in participation levels, including: increase in water consumption (31%); price perceived as too expensive (15%); parental contribution required for non-DEIS schools (15%); children do not consume milk at home (23%). The research also highlighted some issues regarding facilities and equipment, including the frequency of delivery, particularly in rural areas, and the quality of milk where deliveries of milk are made outside the school grounds in the early hours of the morning.
Following the research, my Department has undertaken a number of actions to deliver an improved School Milk Scheme in the current school year i.e. the 2018/19 school year, including:
- Targeted recruitment campaign in advance of the commencement of the new school year by the National Dairy Council (NDC) (Sept 18).
- Enhanced accompanying measures/educational resources in the form of a new School Milk Week delivered (February 2019), with associated publicity campaigns and competitions to raise awareness.
- Increasing the parental subsidy by 60% (Sept 18) to make the scheme more affordable for parents.
- Trialling of a new method of delivery of milk to schools.
- The NDC is addressing the issue of frequency of deliveries in contracts with individual suppliers.
I would anticipate that, as a direct consequence of these additional measures, the numbers of participating schools and the volume of milk distributed in the school year 2019/2020 will increase compared to school year 2018/2019. However, final figures will not be available until the end of 2019.