Headteachers and school business managers have expressed frustration over delays to free school meals vouchers being approved through the government's online supplier, Edenred.
After the Edenred site was taken offline over the bank holiday weekend, schools reported disruption to their ability to provide meals for pupils eligible for free school meals and their families.
Many heads and school business managers were reporting continuing issues with the website all morning and into the afternoon.
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In a previous statement, a Department for Education spokeswoman said the website would be taken offline over the Easter bank holiday to upgrade its system but would be back on "immediately" after the weekend.
However, many school business managers have reported ongoing issues with the site, with one stating they had had to signpost parents to local food banks as an alternative source of help.
They told Tes that, having placed an order for food on Friday 3 April, vouchers arrived on the following Thursday, and that the Edenred site subsequently went down, meaning that families could not access food.
"Throughout the week, we had to provide reassurance that vouchers were coming," they said. "We had to signpost to local food banks and provision.
"Parents receive the vouchers but then the system used to claim went down meaning no one could claim, so all weekend we have been trying to help reassure parents but in fact there was little we could do.
"It is such a difficult and frustrating situation for parents and for us as school leaders trying to manage it without any support.
"I worked throughout the weekend emailing parents etc while constantly checking the site. Sometimes it would be up for a few minutes giving you time to check a few details, but then would go back down."
Many school business leaders reported that the site was still not fully operational this morning.
School business manager Emma Norman said she had spent 40 minutes this morning "just looking at a whirring screen".
We had already purchased vouchers from Asda to cover last week and this week,— Emma Norman (@mrsemmanorman) April 14, 2020
I’ve been sat here for about 40mins now just looking at a whirring screen. Watching #TrumpMeltdown videos to pass the time whilst ignoring my own children. @Edenreduk #FSMjoke #sbmmeltdown
Others said their orders were still pending and that they could not find a way of contacting Edenred for help.
Yes, horrendously so. Cannot get my orders approved still and taking at least 30 mins to get to the approval page, and then about 5 mins between each attempt. Ideally need to know if I can approve orders that should have already been delivered.— Andrea (@kernowsbm) April 14, 2020
Our vouchers have been ‘pending’ for 6 days.— Stay Safe (@NatalieWhittak5) April 14, 2020
Tried to phone #edenred it rings twice then instant hang up.
We were given 48 hours to arrange the closure of our schools, safeguarding and provision for KW.
How is this taking them so long?
It’s as if they really don’t care.#FSM
Others described a lack of communication from the government as "frustrating".
It’s the lack of communication from @Edenreduk and @educationgovuk that is so frustrating. What are we supposed to be telling the parents? I can’t believe that this has not made the national news @bbclaurak @BBCHughPym @BBCNews ?— Lynda Wise (@wise_wise15) April 14, 2020
Uploaded my orders last week and been trying to approve them ever since! Managed to approve 3 orders this morning, took about an hour as the site was so slow. Now crashed again and getting the error message again for the 4th order. This is horrendous— Jill Stanton (@jill_stanton) April 14, 2020
@RichardA I think that this needs to be brought to national attention, School Business Leaders have spent a significant amount of time over the last week trying to order free school meal vouchers for vulnerable families using the government approved Edenred system.— Andrea (@kernowsbm) April 14, 2020
The news comes after Tes reported last week that headteachers and school business managers were struggling to obtain free school meals vouchers a week after the launch of the scheme.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know that the free school meal voucher system is delivering for thousands of schools.
"We continue to work closely with our supplier Edenred to resolve any outstanding issues quickly and we thank schools for their patience while the system was successfully upgraded over the Bank Holiday weekend.”