DfE won't fund school meal vouchers over half-term

Decision prompts warning that schools will have to find millions from existing budgets to avoid 'significant' impact for disadvantaged families

vouchers

The government’s heavily-criticised free school meals voucher scheme will not run over half-term, the Department for Education has told Tes.

This means that schools wishing to provide meals for disadvantaged pupils during the holidays will have to fund it themselves.

Although the government provided the vouchers over the Easter holidays, it has said they are only part of term-time arrangements and that, for the May half-term, schools are encouraged to make their own local arrangements where appropriate.

But Hilary Goldsmith, a school business manager based in Kent, said she knew of lots of schools that had already ordered vouchers for the whole of May, including half-term week.


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She said: "We can tell families that the end of May week isn't covered and that the value they received for that week is for the first week in June.

"But we'll have to backtrack on what we've told them (previously). The guidance is shockingly poor in that case, as the part about holiday periods has been removed and isn't stated in the current guidance.

"And the impact on those families will be significant. The DfE really have no moral standing on this one, and it's going to cause a riot."

She added: "If schools want to do the right thing and provide meals/vouchers in holiday periods, they will have to fund it themselves."

This would cost schools £19.5 million in total, she calculated.

However, she said: "In reality, schools have been receiving FSM funding with no outlay for many, so we can pick up the tab for a week if need be."

The scheme, run by private supplier EdenRed UK, has already been criticised over delays in families receiving the surpermarket vouchers, worth £15 per child per week.

The DfE says that, up to yesterday, Edenred has reported that more than £70m worth of voucher codes have been redeemed into supermarket gift cards by schools and families.

It says school meals provision is “ordinarily term-time only” but that it will continue to keep this approach under review.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We continue to encourage schools to work with their suppliers to arrange food parcels or collections for families who are eligible for free school meals. There are some outstanding examples of where schools are using their own offers to support the children who need it most.

“Where that is not possible, the national voucher scheme has been put in place and is delivering for thousands of schools.”

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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