Voucher scheme failings lead to call for review of school food policy

20 May 2021
A new report looking at the free school meal voucher scheme recommends policymakers work with School Food Matters to review school food policy.

The British Educational Research Association (BERA) has published a report entitled The free school meal voucher scheme & children’s access to food during the Covid-19 crisis. BERA has investigated the problems families and schools faced when accessing the voucher scheme.

BERA developed two research questions:

1. How have schools responded to Covid-19 in relation to food during holiday provision?

2. What have families identified as barriers to accessing the school food voucher scheme?

Several issues were found with the scheme including accessibility, associated stigma, and insufficient value. These compound findings by the Public Accounts Committee and others that the scheme was inadequate, at a time when food insecurity was worsening for our most vulnerable children.

"...the schools voucher scheme didn’t necessarily work for everybody. They couldn’t access vouchers. They’d turn up to the shops and stores to find there’s no credit on them and things like that. I don’t want to be too negative about it, but a lot of people were saying that it wasn’t functioning very well, the way it was set up."

- Young person

The report makes a number of recommendations, including for school leaders to consider school food as a central part of the curriculum. A cash-first approach is advocated as good practice to ensure families can feed their children immediately. Author Dr Gurpinder Lalli is also planning to create a ‘school food toolkit’ to help school leaders ‘to consider school food policy more broadly’ and integrate food into the curriculum.

"The toolkit for me is more about encouraging schools to think creatively about how they embed these areas... It’s not just something that is a nice to have. It’s getting schools to really get under the skin of their whole operation"

- Headteacher

National policymakers are recommended to engage with School Food Matters and organisations such as Chefs in Schools, Food Foundation and Taste Education. A key recommendation is for a full investigation of school food policy, which echoes calls on Government from us, other charities and Marcus Rashford.