While academic exams and results remain vital for admission into colleges and university, there has been a growing movement in recent years for the next generation to acquire more than just grades at school.

One such education trust is The Academy for Character and Excellence (ACE), where food and drink not only fuels
the pupils but also helps educate and develop them.

Based in Devon, ACE comprises of six primary schools and three pre-schools. Each school has their own unique identity and a set of values, which sit under the Trust’s mission of ‘Excellence through Cultivating Character, Sharing Talents and Pursuing Innovation’.

With health and wellbeing sitting at the centre of everything, in addition to the usual curriculum, the Trust has a clear focus on ‘Cultivating Character’.

Trust catering lead Sam Ward explains:

“Character Education is about more than just learning how to write or do your times tables. It’s about instilling certain life skills and building a mindset to help the pupils deal with the challenges that the future holds. This is an amazing part of my work, where I am heavily involved in teaching them how to cook, how to grow vegetables, work in a team, the importance of community and being good citizens.”

After completing her degree in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management, Sam Ward worked in restaurants and hotels before first entering the school food industry in 2006. Her first tasks were to take the school meal service at Collaton St Mary Primary School in-house and sign up for the Food for Life programme.

Sam continued: “Being part of the Food for Life scheme was the real catalyst. It means we adhere to certain standards and criteria when it comes to things like sourcing ingredients, creating menus, nutrition, waste and sustainability. It is all about making good food choices easy for everyone and reconnecting our pupils with where their food comes from.”

With her hands firmly on the reins, Collaton St Mary Primary School became the first in the south of England to be awarded the Food for Life Gold Award in 2011 with a host of other awards following as additional schools joined ACE.

All of the schools in the trust now have polytunnels or greenhouses, veg patches and pupils are taken on trips to agricultural businesses to improve processes and results.

The school-grown fresh produce is used in the cafeterias and it is also vital to the classroom, providing living and breathing lessons, where pupils learn first-hand about different vegetables and the science behind the growing.

Responsibility and ownership are placed on the pupils wherever possible with a wide range of posts available that children
can apply and interview for such as Waste Warriors, Food for Life Champion, Health Hero and even Bagel Monitor