Free school meals: Government defends half term plans

Free school meals: Government defends half term plans

The government has defended its scheme to offer free food to struggling families in England over half term, after criticism from a teaching union.

During the February half term local councils will provide free meals under the government’s Covid Winter Grant Scheme – rather than through schools.

The National Education Union warned of a “logistical nightmare” in changing schemes for a week.

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

The department insists that even though schools will not have to provide meals over half term, that children will still be adequately supplied with food through the £170m Covid Winter Grant fund set up in early December.

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

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 Kevin 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 yet more disruption could lie ahead in half term. These are battles which should not have to be repeatedly fought.”

He said using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme was an “unnecessary logistical nightmare, and the confusion and chaos could put 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.”

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, particularly over school holidays.

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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