Coronavirus: Johnson's school meal 'plan' under fire

Prime minister says government has a plan for providing free school meals but heads warn schools are already closing

John Roberts

Coronavirus: Boris Johnson has said that free school meals pupils will get fed in the event of school closures

School leaders have challenged Boris Johnson's claim that that there are plans “ready to go” to help pupils who lose their free meals if schools shut due to the coronavirus.

The prime minister was asked about pupils on free school meals at this afternoon’s press conference about the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that the government had anticipated the issue of pupils on free school meals being affected by school closures and has a plan.

However, a multi-academy trust leader has spoken out about his "frustration" that schools are already being forced to close because of the impact of the outbreak, without any guidance on supporting disadvantaged pupils who may go hungry.

At today's press conference, Mr Johnson said: “On free school meals, as we come to the decision on schools we will have, obviously, plans ready to go on that.

"Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has a plan to make sure that parents with kids who are eligible for free school meals get the compensation or the treatment they need one way or the other. We certainly anticipated that."

The impact of coronavirus school closures

Jonny Uttley, the chief executive of the Education Alliance trust, responded on social media: "It has been increasingly frustrating because we are at the point where schools are closing now and there is nothing in place for pupils on free school meals unless we provide it. The prime minister said he has a plan. Well, what is it?”

He added: “Johnson said there will be a plan but did not say what. One of my staff waited for one hour and 20 minutes on hold on the Department for Education helpline to be told it’s up to schools.

“Tomorrow 280 students receiving free school meals will not be able to attend two of our schools.

“The DfE has no plan for them. This afternoon members of my team have phoned round five different supermarkets and we have bought 280 £15 vouchers to cover lunches for the next five days."

Another headteacher, John Tomsett, who leads Huntington School in York, replied to Mr Uttley, saying his school was transferring cash to parents, beginning with two-week payments of £30. "We will sort the mess out afterwards," he tweeted.

As Tes reported earlier, the Co-op is giving food vouchers to pupils on free school meals who attend Co-op Academies Trust schools that close as a result of the coronavirus.

Mr Uttley said his trust’s response came from an idea posted on social media by Essex headteacher Vic Goddard.

School governor Andy Jolley has been highlighting the issue of ensuring that free school meals pupils get fed in the event of closures for the past two weeks on social media.

He told Tes that he had repeatedly called the DfE helpline and was told last week that they “do not have any guidance on the area of school meals at the moment”.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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