Food parcels row shows how teachers ‘pick up pieces’

Schools left to ‘piece together’ free meals provision, say headteachers, as government investigates ‘inadequate’ food parcel
12th January 2021, 12:55pm
Catherine Lough

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Food parcels row shows how teachers ‘pick up pieces’

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/food-parcels-row-shows-how-teachers-pick-pieces
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The row over food parcels sent to disadvantaged pupils during lockdown shows how teachers and schools are left to "pick up the pieces" in supporting struggling families, union leaders have said.

The government has promised to investigate after images shared online revealed pupils had been sent free school meal parcels widely described as "inadequate".


Read: DfE U-turn over funding free school meals in half-term

Coronavirus: Anger at 'broken' meals voucher scheme

Background: Vouchers for FSM pupils backed by DfE


Children's minister Vicky Ford said she would "urgently" look into the matter after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel, which was estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.

Sharing the image, Twitter user Roadside Mum said: "2 days jacket potato with beans, 8 single cheese sandwiches, 2 days carrots, 3 days apples, 2 days soreen, 3 days frubes.

"Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.

"Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest."

#FreeSchoolMeals bag for 10 days:

2 days jacket potato with beans
8 single cheese sandwiches

2 days carrots
3 days apples
2 days soreen
3 days frubes

Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.

Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest. pic.twitter.com/87LGUTHXEu

- Roadside Mum ? (@RoadsideMum) January 11, 2021

Headteachers say the lack of an effective national school vouchers scheme is forcing schools to "piece together provision" themselves.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The government needs to get a move on with reopening the national free school meal voucher scheme. Schools have been left having to piece together provision by arranging for food parcels and local vouchers.

"As we have seen from these images online, of inadequate food parcels, this can go wrong, and we need the availability of a universal system. It is absolutely vital that these children get a good meal. We can hardly expect remote learning to work well if they are hungry."

And Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teachers' union, said that schools were being left to "pick up the slack" when it came to supporting hungry families.

Dr Bousted said teachers would "obviously" find it harder to engage students who were struggling to access adequate free school meals.

"You can't learn effectively if you're hungry, that's obviously the case," she said.

"Schools always pick up the slack. What Covid has shown is just what schools do, particularly in deprived areas, to feed and clothe and support children whose parents are unable to do that," she added.

"If we're looking at the rising cases of homelessness - that will directly impact on so many children. And every time there's a recession and poor people get poorer, the ones who suffer the most are the children of those poor people - and the institution that picks up the pieces of that suffering are schools, teachers ad support staff and leaders, and that has never been recognised by this government or its previous iterations since 2010.

"The big lie so many ministers have sought to perpetuate is that schools are just academic institutions - in many areas, they are the last public service left standing."

Footballer and free school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford tweeted about the issue, writing: "3 days of food for 1 family…Just not good enough.

3 days of food for 1 family...
Just not good enough. pic.twitter.com/Y7FJEFFAma

- Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 11, 2021

"Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home.

"Not to mention the parents who, at times, have to teach them, who probably haven't eaten at all so their children can…We MUST do better."

Mr Rashford added that there was a meeting scheduled today between the Department for Education and Chartwells, the company which the mother said provided the parcel.

The DfE wrote on Twitter: "We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed.

We are looking into this.

We have clear guidelines and standards for food parcels, which we expect to be followed. Parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food.https://t.co/ZBdJZqxdfK https://t.co/9sfxHPX9RJ

- Department for Education (@educationgovuk) January 11, 2021

"Parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food."

Chartwells responded to say they would investigate.

They said: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention - this does not reflect the specification of one of our hampers."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the situation as "a disgrace".

He tweeted: "The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace.

"Where is the money going?

"This needs sorting immediately so families don't go hungry through lockdown."

The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace.

Where is the money going?

This needs sorting immediately so families don't go hungry through lockdown.

- Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) January 12, 2021

Today, a University of Sussex study also revealed that nearly one in five less advantaged parents said that lack of food made home-learning more difficult for children in the first lockdown.

The survey, of 3,409 parents in the UK, suggests that secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals (39 per cent) were more likely to report that a lack of technology - such as laptops and computers - made learning from home more difficult, compared to 19 per cent of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.

The survey, which ran from 5 May 5 until 31 July, also found that 19 per cent of parents of primary pupils from households that were struggling for income said a lack of food made completing school work from home more difficult, compared with just 3 per cent of families with comfortable levels of income.

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