Schools in England have been told not to offer free meals over half term break

Schools have been told not to provide free lunch meals to England’s poorest pupils during the February half term.

New guidance published by the Department for Education on Wednesday (13 Jan) states: “Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half term.”

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The guidance says that there is already wider government support available for families and children outside of term time, supplied through the Covid winter grant scheme.

This refers to the £170 million scheme announced in November 2020. The initiative is run by local authorities in England, with 80 per cent of funds assigned to support utility and food costs until the end of March.

Schools in England have provided school meals over the holidays throughout the pandemic, and the third lockdown, currently underway, is predicted to remain in place during the February break.

‘Battles that should not have to be repeatedly fought’

National Education Union joint secretary, Kevin Courtney, said that no child should have to wake up feeling anxious, and that the plan to offer food through the council grant scheme was a logistical nightmare.

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He 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.”

Mr Courtney added: “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.”

The Department for Education is yet to comment on the announcement.

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Images of poorly kept lunch parcels - given out in place of free school meals - circulated on social media this week, including blackened bananas, and unrefrigerated dairy products.

Footballer Marcus Rashford, who pioneered a campaign to ensure free school meals were reinstated during the first lockdown, spoke with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Afterwards, he said that Mr Johnson was “committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place.”