The Government has taken several unprecedented steps during the pandemic to ensure that those eligible for free school meals continued to receive them, even if they were not attending school. I welcome that eligible pupils are receiving provisions during this current period of closures.
However, I am aware that concerns have been raised over the quality and quantity of the food provided. The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have both made clear that the quality of some of the parcels provided is wholly unacceptable. I understand the Department for Education (DfE) is investigating these reports and I welcome that the Children’s Minister has committed to look into the matter urgently. DfE has clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which should cover all lunchtime meals. It is expected that parcels should be nutritious, contain a varied range of food, and that provision should not reply on parents having additional ingredients at home.
I am aware that Chartwells, a provider of these parcels, is investigating the matter immediately.
There are a number of benefits that providing food parcels for pupils has over use of the FSM voucher scheme, including
- being able to quickly set up provision as many school caterers will have experience of delivering food parcels
- supporting safeguarding through the opportunity to maintain regular contact with vulnerable pupils and ensure they receive healthy nutritious food
However, DfE guidance states that schools should provide support in the most appropriate way based on their local circumstances. If a school has confirmed with the school catering team or food provider that it is not in the best interest of pupils to provide lunch parcels, they can consider other local arrangements, including the national voucher scheme.
Separately, I welcome that the Holiday Activities and Food Programme is to be expanded in 2021 and that Healthy Start payments are set to increase from April.