An update to Free School Meal Guidance for Schools

Roast Dinner Day

Today, Tuesday 31st March, the Department of Education has updated the guidance relating to free school meal provision in the wake of school closures due to Coronavirus. The updates to the guidance are as follows:

  • The guidance reiterates that head teachers should speak to the school catering team or provider to see if they can prepare meals or food parcels that could be delivered to or collected by families.
  • Where meals or food parcels are not viable, the guidance says that food vouchers should be provided. The voucher scheme is now up and running, £15 per week for children eligible for benefits-related FSM, and can be spent in Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, M&S. The Department for Education says they are exploring options for expanding use beyond these supermarkets.
  • The guidance confirms the vouchers will be provided for term time only.
  • The guidance confirms that Universal Infant Free School Meal funding will be paid to schools as normal.

Overall, we welcome the guidance as it provides clarity on some critical issues and lays out a commitment to delivering UIFSM funding. However, more is needed from the Department of Education on various fronts to ensure all children have access to good, nutritional food whilst schools are fully or partially closed.

Rob Percival, Soil Association’s Head of Food Policy said:

“This updated guidance from government is welcome. Schools and caterers are working hard to ensure that vulnerable children receive a meal, and confirmation that £15 vouchers are available will come a relief to many families. School caterers should be supported to provide food parcels and meals where possible, but the vouchers provide a necessary safety net.

Confirmation that schools will receive their UIFSM funding is also welcome, but the government should provide stronger encouragement to schools to spend this on vulnerable children and families in their community. We know that many children remain ineligible for Free School Meals, despite living in poverty. It’s important that schools and caterers do all that they can to support these children at this difficult time.

We are also dismayed that the vouchers are only available during term time. Given the extraordinary pressures that families are under, this is grossly remiss. The voucher scheme should be extended across the Easter holidays. As a matter of urgency, in the absence of any other holiday provision, the government should encourage schools to use their UIFSM funding to provide vouchers for vulnerable families as needed across the holidays. No child should  have to go hungry because of coronavirus.”

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