Coronavirus: DfE makes Easter holidays FSM U-turn

Government reverses decision not to fund free school meals during the two-week break, promising support for vulnerable pupils

Amy Gibbons

Michael Gove

The government has said free school meals vouchers will be made available over the Easter holidays, despite previously insisting that provision would be "termtime only".

Speaking at yesterday's press conference on the coronavirus crisis, former education secretary Michael Gove said schools will be able to provide vouchers to vulnerable families over the two-week break, "to support household incomes".

He added he was "conscious that more must be done" to support vulnerable children over the holidays, and would be "saying more next week about work in this area".

Coronavirus: Concern over 'termtime only' FSM vouchers

Background: Vouchers for FSM pupils backed by DfE

Support: Michelin-star chefs cook free school meals

However free school meals campaigner Andy Jolley criticised the government for making the announcement after schools had broken up for the Easter holidays.

He also said a "complete lack of detail" from Mr Gove raised questions over funding and eligibility criteria.

Shadow education minister Emma Hardy said Mr Jolley's analysis highlighted "how poor the decision was to announce the change at such short notice".

Earlier this week, teachers raised concerns that low-income families would struggle to cope over Easter, after the government said support would not be extended over the holidays.

The official advice from the Department for Education (DfE) previously stated: "It is for schools to decide locally how their arrangements for free school meals will operate.

"While the vouchers are for term time only, if there is a local arrangement to supply food that the school and the supplier intend to continue over this period then that can be agreed and managed locally.

"This would need to be manageable within schools’ existing resources, as there will not be additional funding available for this purpose."

However the government has since made a U-turn on its policy, following pressure from the sector.

Mr Gove said yesterday: "Teachers have kept schools open for those who need them, and parents have kept their children at home wherever possible.

"So we enter the Easter holiday weeks with school attendance having been around just 2 per cent, ensuring that the most vulnerable can be cared for.

"For children eligible for free school meals, vouchers will be available over the holidays to support household incomes.

"But I’m conscious that more must be done, particularly over the holiday period, to support children at risk and in need. I will be saying more next week about work in this area."

Until this week, many schools have been making their own arrangements for the collection or delivery of free meals.

They can continue to do so, but where this is not possible, the government scheme will allow them to provide vouchers to families electronically, or as a gift card for those without internet access.

The DfE said it had nothing to add to Mr Gove's comments at this stage.

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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