Free school meals: Outcry over move not to supply at half term

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By Hannah Richardson
Education and social affairs reporter

Published4 minutes ago

Free school meals will not be extended to England's poorest pupils this half term, prompting an outcry from teachers' leaders.

National Education Union boss Kevin Courtney said the plan to offer food through a council Covid grant scheme instead was a "logistical nightmare".

It would put "millions of pupils" at risk, he said, and "ministers should hang their heads in shame".

It comes after Boris Johnson condemned meagre food parcels this week.

The Department for Education published guidelines on the provision of free meals by schools on Wednesday, after an outcry over the quality of food packages, after pictures appeared on social media.

Ministers lined up to criticise what was being sent out by some school food firms.

However, the department insists food will be adequately supplied through the £170m Covid Winter Grant fund set up in early December.

It aimed to support those most in need across England with the cost of food, energy, water bills and other essentials.

Food parcels row

The guidance reiterates schools' responsibilities in term time, but goes on to say: "Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half term.

"There is wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme."

NEU joint general secretary Mr Courtney said: "This week, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson made public statements about how appalled they were by the quality of food parcels shared on Twitter.

"But that is put in the shade by today's confirmation that free school meals will not go ahead over half term. These are battles which should not have to be repeatedly fought."

He added that no child should wake up feeling anxious about where their next meal is coming from, and even now millions are still waiting for the reinstatement of the national food voucher scheme.

"Suggesting that local councils will be able to recreate a brand new system of supplying free school meals for the week of half term using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is an unnecessary logistical nightmare, and the confusion and chaos this will cause puts millions of children at risk," said Mr Courtney.

"The anguish, not to mention hunger, this decision will cause is immeasurable. Ministers should hang their heads in shame and unless they reverse this decision never again speak of their concern for disadvantaged children. Their actions show very clearly that they do not care."

The Department for Education is yet to comment on the criticism, but it has previously insisted that a council-run scheme could target help effectively in holiday time.

image copyrightPA Media

image captionMarcus Rashford has spear-headed a campaign for holiday food

Food charities and anti-poverty campaigners, including footballer Marcus Rashford, have repeatedly clashed with the government over the issue of food for poor pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The footballer forced the government to back down in the summer over its plans not to offer free meals in the holidays to poor pupils, whose families were likely to be suffering with reduced incomes.

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