Schools are already reporting difficulties in using the online ordering service to get free schools meals vouchers from private contractor Edenred.
The contractor was at the centre of criticism during school closures last year when its online ordering system was described as “broken every step of the way” after headteachers and school business managers said they were spending hours online trying to obtain vouchers worth £15 per child per week.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed yesterday that Edenred will run another voucher scheme from Monday next week – however school business leaders have taken to Twitter today to complain that they’re already having problems on the first day of being able to order the vouchers.
@accidentalSBM stated: “Excellent. It has already started. Edenred send email with links to download template and to reset password. None of [the] links work. I reckon that has been about 40 mins before first fail.”
excellent. It has already started. Edenred send email with links to download template and to reset password. None of links work. I reckon that has been about 40 mins before first fail @Edenred @educationgovuk #herewegoagain— AccidentalSBM💙 (@accidentalSBM) January 14, 2021
@hogg_dawn tweeted: “Glad it wasn't just me experiencing these problems. Here we go again”.
Glad it wasnt just me experiencing these problems 🙄 here we go again 🙈— Dawn Hogg 💙 (@hogg_dawn) January 14, 2021
@hutchywraggs said: “I thought it was just me! Went to the login page though and reset that way.”
At the end of last year, a National Audit Office report revealed how Edenred had “insufficient” IT capacity to provide FSM vouchers for 1.4 million pupils, but that the company took action to upgrade its IT systems, and the time taken to process orders fell from almost five days in April to “a matter of hours” by July.
Meanwhile, a poll of school business managers (SBMs) on Twitter reveals today that only half of the 96 respondents plan to use the Edenred scheme this time, with a third running their own voucher scheme.
However, some have been put off from running their own scheme, saying they’re unsure as to whether they’ll be able to claim back the money.
@SbmNorfolk said: “[I] don’t trust @gavinwilliamson not to move the goalposts again, so [as] much as I loathe Edenred, I will use them”, and @SBMEssex said: “Edenred. Don't trust them not to move to goalposts.”
However, school business manager Hilary Goldsmith told Tes she was going to using voucher provider Wonde.
She said: “The only trick I can see is if they refuse to pay back Wonde claims on the basis of them not being a local offer. Can't see them having the neck to do that though as all shops are local by definition.
“I'm bereft because I wanted Edenred out of my life never to return. Also because the government have the front to use them again.”
The Labour Party has today called for the government to “trust parents” in giving them cash direct as an alternative to a voucher scheme following public outcry after images of poor-quality food parcels delivered to parents.
However, schools system minister Lady Berridge said: “Particularly during the pandemic, schools do not want to deal with cash and distributing cash to parents.”
Edenred provided the following statement when approached by Tes:
“Over 9,000 schools have successfully activated their accounts for the national free school meal voucher scheme within the first 24 hours and are now ready to order when the scheme goes live next week.
"We’ve offered our help to the small number of schools who have had reported issues with email links or downloads so we can get them set up ahead of the launch next week.
"We are here to help every school leader get ready for the for the launch so if they encounter any problems, we urge them to get in touch with our team so we can help them get set up ahead of Monday.”
The DfE has been contacted for comment.