Could a career in school catering be right for you?

When it comes to hospitality jobs, there are many different career paths to choose between, from managing hotels to chef jobs in restaurants and working behind the bar at a pub or club.

But one growing part of the hospitality industry that may sometimes be overlooked is the education catering sector, which could offer a highly rewarding career.

The old image of stodgy, unhealthy meals in dreary school canteens is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, with the industry undergoing a process of extensive modernisation.

This has seen many local authorities and independent schools outsource their school catering to dedicated providers in the private sector or to specialist public service caterers who often invest in new bright and modern canteens and who are placing a greater focus on healthy and nutritious, yet still appetising, menus.

As a result, chef jobs in school catering can often offer greater opportunity for creativity than in the past, while larger catering firms means there is also the chance to progress your career to higher levels within the same company.

And business is growing, too, with more and more children opting to eat meals in their school canteen.

According to a recent report from the School Food Trust, an average of 46.3 per cent of children in England's primary schools – the equivalent of 1,994,877 children – and 39.8 per cent of pupils in secondary school – the equivalent of 1,298,529 pupils – opted for school meals in the 2011-12 year.

Together, these figures represent an increase of 167,000 in the number of pupils in school meals this year in comparison to 2010-2011.

And one of the factors that is driving this greater uptake is the growing focus on the nutritional content of the meals being served in schools, signified by the government's recent introduction of a set of legally binding minimum nutritional standards for state schools.

This has proved so popular that a survey published this week by the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) revealed that the majority of parents (92 per cent) want to see all schools – whether state maintained, academies or free schools – abide by these standards.

Furthermore, just over 90 per cent of parents said they were very happy or happy with the school meal service their children were receiving, compared to 89 per cent last year, while an overwhelming majority of 88 per cent said service delivery was meeting or exceeding their expectations.

"What really comes through here is how much parents want the reassurance of knowing that the food their child is being offered at school will be tasty and affordable, but also nutritious – which is why school food standards have such a key part to play," commented Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the School Food Trust.

Of course, many still believe that there is a long way to go to get school meals up to the highest standards, but nevertheless those working for school caterers today have a chance to make a real positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the nation's children.

There are many different roles available for those looking for a hospitality job in the education catering sector, but there are often certain qualities that will be sought after among candidates no matter what position they are applying for.

For example, a friendly, outgoing personality is usually a must, as you'll probably be working directly with children.

A knowledge of nutrition and ability to design healthy menus while still sticking to a tight budget will also be an advantage, as will the ability to keep calm under pressure and not let the fact that you may have hundreds of mouths to feed each day stress you out.

As you'll be working with children, most employers will also require you to undergo child protection screening before being offered the job.

Berkeley Scott provides specialist advice and support to help you find hospitality jobs