Tory pressure to provide summer FSM vouchers grows

Failure to continue FSM scheme would bring the DfE's 'broader strategy' into question, says former education secretary

Amy Gibbons

Coronavirus: The free school meals voucher scheme should be extended over the summer, says former education secretary Justine Greening

A Conservative former education secretary has piled pressure on the government to extend its national free schools meals voucher scheme over the summer holidays.

The Department for Education should take the "easy decision" to continue the scheme during the summer months, according to Justine Greening.

Ms Greening, who was secretary of state for education between 2016 and 2018, said the government's failure to extend the programme would bring its "broader strategy" for education into question.

Greening: Schools facing 'crisis' unless DfE acts

Free school meals: DfE threatened with legal action over FSM voucher scheme

Background: Vouchers for FSM pupils backed by DfE

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, she said: "I think in the short term and the immediate term, one easy decision to take would be to agree that those vouchers that have helped children who are on free schools meals but have been out of school, and made sure that they could stay properly fed, that those are continued through the summer.

Coronavirus: Free school meals over the summer?

"My concern is that if government can't even take a straightforward decision like that, then there is a real question about how and when it's going to come up with a much broader strategy that our education system needs, to make sure our children and young people are educated in the autumn – and that those who have suffered most from the school shutdown have a plan in place to help them catch up."

She was speaking after Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, raised similar concerns, urging the DfE to reconsider its decision to discontinue the scheme.

Mr Halfon argued that providing free school meals over the summer is a "no-brainer".

In a statement released on Friday, he said: "These are extraordinarily challenging times for us all, but particularly for those families who face real health and financial anguish. It is vital that we maintain free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays.

"It will mean children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be able to be fed if they attend summer schools and catch-up programmes. It will ensure parents who have been made redundant or are looking for work are able to feed their kids.

"Reports have shown that around 3 million children are at risk of 'holiday hunger' and this can have an enormous impact on their attainment in school and performance in the classroom. If we are to boost the life chances of these children, we must do all we can to ensure they are properly fed and supported during the holidays.

"Statistics from the department show that, in pilot areas of the scheme, infants receiving free school meals were two months' ahead of their peers elsewhere. This is a no-brainer.

"That's why I have written to the children's minister today to urge the government to extend the scheme over the upcoming summer holidays. I am pleased to have secured a debate in Parliament where I will be raising this further."

The prime minister's official spokesman said last week: "The voucher scheme will not run over the summer.

"A £9 million holiday activities and food programme will offer activities and meals to thousands of disadvantaged children during the summer break.

"We are keeping this scheme under review to consider whether it needs to be extended further."

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

Latest stories

Here is how to ensure effective safeguarding mechanisms

Safeguarding: 5 golden principles for leaders

The need for colleges and schools to have effective safeguarding practices has never been more apparent. This lawyer has some advice on what to look out for
Sophie Kemp 11 May 2021