The closure of schools is a complex problem. Not only is there a direct impact on children’s learning, but there is also the matter of helping disadvantaged families to continue to access all the support schools provide. Free school meals are provided to the children of families who receive certain benefits. This means that when schools are open, parents and social workers can feel confident that all children are having at least one nutritious meal each day. But when schools are closed, councils have to address the problem of getting those meals to less fortunate families.
How do local authorities provide free school meals during lockdown?
During the first lockdown last year, parents were given supermarket vouchers to the value of school meals – £15 per week per child. Most vouchers came with limits and could not be used to buy cigarettes or alcohol. They were also only valid for the duration of the scheme.
During this lockdown, however, some schools have been issuing food parcels instead of vouchers, a scheme which has met with a great deal of controversy and has even been criticised by the Prime Minister.
All in all, the voucher scheme is considered the better solution.
Surrey County Council had this to say:
Throughout this pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure that young people across Surrey are properly fed and cared for. We know many families are struggling financially and that hunger has a huge impact on a child’s wellbeing, learning and development.
Over the two-week Christmas holidays, we ensured that all Surrey schools were able to distribute food vouchers to their families with children eligible for Free Schools Meals, using the Covid Winter Grant funding we received from government. We intend to do the same over the February half term and Easter holidays.
Following the sudden announcement of school closures last week, all schools, nurseries and colleges must continue supporting children eligible for Free School Meals who are now at home during term time.
We support the flexibility for schools to choose to use either a local or a national supermarket voucher scheme, rather than provide a food parcel, where that is best for the family and child. Schools will be reimbursed for up to £15 per week per voucher. We know that for many families, a £15 weekly food voucher provides them with greater choice and value than a food parcel, and empowers them to feed their children well. Families should be supported in every way possible to provide healthy meals for their children.
For schools that chose to provide food parcels to pupils who are at home, the quality and quantity of that offer must meet children’s nutritional needs, equivalent to a school lunch. Schools providing booster boxes have now been provided with extra government support to distribute any food parcels. Catering suppliers should also support parents with things like recipe advice and meal planning each week, as many are.
The funding to make £15 available either for vouchers or food parcels should enable all schools to secure high quality food provision for children and ensure no child in Surrey goes hungry.
The Council Member for Lifelong Learning, Julie Iles, and the new Executive Director for Children, Families and Learning will shortly be visiting a food parcel supply hub to see the parcel contents and delivery operations for themselves.
We will continue to support schools and parents wherever possible to ensure our young people are adequately fed and cared for during this already difficult time.
- Packed Lunch: Hillbers News