Families and schools have welcomed the reintroduction of the free school meal voucher scheme.
The government yesterday confirmed that the scheme will return from next week, something that many schools and parents have been campaigning for.
It means that schools or councils working with Edenred UK can get gift cards for supermarkets to allow parents to choose what to spend the money on.
The move comes after a picture of one mum’s food parcel caused uproar after she shared it on social media, with the ‘meagre’ contents slammed as ‘woefully inadequate’.
Chartwells, the company behind the parcel has apologised, saying that ‘in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance’.
It has now promised that next week’s food parcels will be enhanced to a new specification and that from January 25, it will be including breakfast into the offering at no extra cost.
This will include a bloomer, bagel, butter, yoghurts, juice, milk, oats and fruit.
The government has today issued new advice saying schools can claim extra vouchers for families who received the inadequate lunch parcels.
But it’s sparked further anger by suggesting schools should not provide food over the February half-term holiday, when lockdown is likely to remain in place.
Schools now have a number of options open to them for providing lunches, depending on what existing contracts are in place.
They will either provide parcels from their existing suppliers, can take on their own local voucher schemes – for which they’ll be reimbursed by the government – or may opt for the national voucher scheme, with many feeling it’s a much simpler option.
It’s something families with children at Blessed John Henry Newman RC College in Oldham have already been benefiting from.
Oldham Council issued vouchers over the Christmas period and the school has been funding them since then, in the hope they’ll get refunded by the government.
Headteacher Glyn Potts said: ” We believe that this not only allows flexibility for families, but acknowledges that students may have dietary requirements that food parcels do not accommodate.
“For many schools like ours, this is incredibly difficult as the finances to cover such a strategy come for the school budget in the hope that the government will refund us. We are extremely lucky that Oldham Council ensured free school meal vouchers for parents over Christmas and we have immediately continued this on our return. We are hopeful that these funds will be refunded to schools as the impact is significant.”
He said initial government guidance placed greater emphasis on schools providing food parcels rather than using vouchers, and with the national voucher scheme only just coming back online, stressed that many schools have simply tried to do their best for families.
“Smaller schools will have sought to do their very best to get food out to those that needed it, in good faith and that may have meant seeking support from external agencies claiming to be able to help,” he said.
“The logistical demands of buying, sorting and distributing these parcels was poorly planned and caused greater demands on schools who are already doing so much.
“Now that the guidance has been updated, it is clear that schools can issue vouchers instead, thus giving greater flexibility for families and avoiding the terrible images of food parcels that have come to light on social media.
“No school wants a child to go hungry and they will be doing all they can to redress this imbalance caused by opportunists business that lack the moral courage to honour the spirit of the scheme. I would ask that the public do not forget that schools are operating under challenging circumstances with a great many more demands, but when school leaders see that it is wrong they most certainly will act.”