Updated guidance on free school meals during school closures

Updated guidance on free school meals during school closures
31 March 2021
DfE has updated guidance for schools on free school meals during school closures. First port of call is always your school caterer. If your caterer is unable to support, the voucher scheme is explained and DfE has settled on £15 per child per week.

The guidance is thorough and still has school caterers front and centre.  It states "Where schools are not able to provide eligible pupils with meals or food parcels through their current food provider, they can provide eligible families with supermarket vouchers in term time weeks."  Here's what else we've learned:

  • DfE is reminding schools that if caterers are providing meals or food parcels, they must be distributed in line with social distancing guidelines
  • If school caterers are unable to provide meals, schools are encouraged to first look at local initiatives eg neighbouring schools acting as food hubs - we've seen this successfully happen in many London boroughs
  • Details of the national voucher scheme will be sent to schools by email direct from Edenred - the provider of the vouchers - check your spam filters!
  • Schools will not have to pay for vouchers. Costs will be covered centrally by DfE
  • To access the scheme, schools will receive an activation code direct from Edenred
  • Vouchers to the value of £15 per child per week can be ordered and an eCode will be emailed to parents
  • Parents can then use the eCode to redeem an eGift card from a range of supermarkets
  • Supermarkets currently involved in the scheme are: Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Waitrose and M&S with others to be added to the list
  • Families are encouraged to consider health and nutrition when using the vouchers and are directed to the School Food Standards.

Important news on funding too with DfE confirming that government "will continue to provide schools with their expected funding, including funding to cover free school meals and universal infant free school meals, throughout this period of closure." This is particularly important for schools continuing to feed children from vulnerable families who are not eligible for FSM.  We're seen some brilliant examples of schools stepping in to support more children, and their younger siblings.

There's support for food suppliers that rely on school meal contracts saying schools should "continue to make payments to food suppliers that are considered at risk in relation to the cost of free school meals and universal infant free school meals. This can apply to up to 25% of the value of a contract and applies until the end of June 2020." Caterers contract by local authorities will be support at least until the end of June through the Cabinet Office's guidance on payment of suppliers at risk.

Important things to note:

  • This support is only for children eligible for benefits-related free school meals, not UIFSM, although the funding for UIFSM will still be paid to schools.
  • This is significant as it will not support families with no recourse to public funds and families who miss out on benefits-related free school meals owing to the complexities of Universal Credit.
  • There's still no confirmation on how DfE will support children currently receiving a free breakfast through the National School Breakfast Programme.

We'll be writing to Department for Education asking them to consider how to support these groups of children so that every vulnerable child is well fed during this challenging time.  You can read the full guidance, complete with Q&A here.