Coronavirus: FSM vouchers to provide ‘£3 per meal’, as caterers criticised for ‘shameful’ hampers

More than half of school caterers said they had or were considering using more processed ingredients in school dinners due to cost and supply issues

Pupils are set to get weekly supermarket vouchers totalling £15 to replace their free school meal entitlements under a new national scheme, Schools Week understands.

But heads have been told the scheme won’t be rolled out until next week. The voucher payments work out at £3 per day – an increase of 70p on the current £2.30 schools are paid to provide meals.

All the major supermarkets are believed to be on board. The government will hire one company to provide the vouchers nationally.

However, it is still not known whether schools will be expected to provide meals for pupils over the Easter holidays.

The government is also under fire for dragging its feet on the voucher scheme announcement. It has now been six days since schools were told the scheme was being developed.

The Department for Education has not responded to a request to confirm the details.

It comes as catering firms are under fire for the quality of food provided for pupils on free school meals.

Peter Overton, head at Easton Church of England Academy, in Bristol, said the food being provided to his school by Chartwells caterers – which included a pack of cooking butter, along with a loaf of bread and a block of cheese and snacks – was “shameful”.

A spokesperson for Chartwells said the company has apologised to Bristol families for the issues providing lunch after they were “forced to use contingency suppliers” amid the short turnaround from closure announcements and difficulties in the food supply chain.

They said they “recognise the provision was not what we’d hoped to supply” and working with councils have “kept our kitchens open and mobilised our supply chain…we are committed to playing our role in the response to coronavirus”.

Julia Hinchliffe said her north Bristol school was provided with 10 slices of bread, five processed cheese slices, five biscuits and five pieces of fruit per pupil, which “falls far below school food standards”.

“Some providers have made a real effort sourcing vegetables, quality protein and enough calories for growing teenagers. I am horrified by the provision, but can do nothing about it.”

The food is provided through the school’s PFI contract, by Caterlink, who apologised the service “did not meet our usual high standards”.

Neil Fuller, Caterlink’s managing director, added they have contacted the school to discuss revising the lunchtime provision.

Caterers doing ‘best they can in extremely difficult times’

Separately, an email to schools from caterers Alliance in Partnership states a weekly food hamper will contain a loaf of sliced bread, a 1.5 kg of dried pasta or jacket potato, two tins of baked beans, a pasta tomato sauce, two tins of fruit and a jar of jam.

The estimated cost for schools is £11.50 per week (the amount they get to cover free school meals per pupil). The products can be purchased for less than £8 when bought individually in supermarkets.

However Sally Tyson, AIP’s key client director, said: “These are extremely difficult times for all, and we are doing the absolute best that we can to ensure all children have a lunch time meal.”

She said the hamper is popular because there’s “minimum contact between children and the school catering team”, adding the firm has a duty to buy quality food rather than “the cheapest available”.

She added that the food industry is also having to deal with shortages, including pasta and baked beans, adding staff are “working to support teachers and children in school in the best way that it can in what are unprecedented and extremely challenging times”.


DfE drags its feet on FSM voucher scheme

It has now been almost a week since the Department for Education said it was working on a national voucher scheme for schools unable to use their current food provider.

The government said further details would be published “shortly”, but nothing has been forthcoming.

An email from a council sent to school leaders, seen by Schools Week, states the national voucher scheme should be available from next week.

It’s expected that weekly funding will be upped from £11.50 to £15 per pupil, with all the major supermarkets involved. This has also been confirmed by a second source.

However, there’s still been no official announcement, with the council warning things are changing from “day to day” so they can’t guarantee this will not change further.

A survey by Teacher Tapp found a quarter of teachers’ schools are delivering meals to pupils, while another 23 per cent are providing vouchers. Over a third of teachers did not know how the school was providing food.

Some schools are also transferring money directly to the bank accounts of parents.

Seb Chapleau, a former primary school headteacher and now director of the Big Education Conversation, part of the 250-plus school network Whole Education, said “schools are doing an incredible job at ensuring that many vulnerable families are not left out”.

But he added “we now need to see this treated with more urgency” by the government.


Claims vouchers will ’cause job losses’

The government is under pressure from caterers, who are against the issuing of vouchers.

A letter sent to Williamson on Friday by the School Food Matters charity, which was also signed by Unison and other food groups, urged the education secretary to ensure cash is instead spent on caterers.

“This will allow for better purchasing in terms of food quality and quantity, and enable schools to continue to provide food and other support for the most vulnerable children,” the letter said.

The letter also warned of “consequences for jobs and the economy: if the government funds a supermarket voucher scheme rather than prioritising investment of funds in existing school meal services, catering teams will lose their jobs.

“Wholesale distributors who supply school meals, already hit by the loss of private sector contracts, could also lose the public sector market resulting in more job losses.”

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  1. Joanne Clark

    We are currently providing meals for collection and delivery . We have also ensured that parents have got the essentials which we have delivered. Every FSM family is also getting a call every day to check that they are ok and whether they need a meal. We are also providing meals for the local Lea nursery school which has provided vouchers – one parent didn’t understand them and I suspect couldn’t read. My experience is that some of the FSM families do not understand what is happening and the emergency that it is.

  2. Hi

    I am referring only to Primary Schools.
    I speak for ALL Education Caterers when I say that we can do whatever it is that we are asked to do. The problem is that there has been no clear and consistent message from Government. First it was Furlough then came an instruction to Government bodies to keep funding contractors in order to maintain supply chains. Are we feeding FSM entitlement or is the Government via the food giants?

    Through it all Caterers in this sector have to remain solvent as businesses. At Dolce we calculated that by reducing all costs to a minimum and buying food only for the FSM feeding during term time, and on the basis that we did not receive the revenue from Paying Parents (KS2) and school staff feeding, we could just about break even if schools gave us 82.5% of our usual charge for free school meals. This would leave schools with an unexpected surplus. Thankfully, most of our school clients have accepted our calculations (our books are open to all). As all education caterers operate on a similar model feeding children to Government standards I believe that the Government should adopt this approach.
    Dan Curtis
    Dolce Ltd
    m. 07939240797

  3. Mel Williams

    At our school, we strongly believe that any vouchers issued for supermarkets should have restrictions on them, i.e. can be redeemed against food items only. I’m sorry to say that we have concerns that the voucher might otherwise be spent on items for the parent(s), to put it politely, rather than on food for the children. I’ve had no luck in trying to convey this feedback to the DfE.

  4. Leanne Craig

    I think it should be vouchers I am self isolating for 12 weeks a single parent high field at Matthews was well that the offer pack lunch at school daily least this way the children can have a health meal of their choice in this very anxious time for them I’ve also emailed my mp as this week I’ve received nothing from school an having it delivered you don’t know how many caters hands an that it’s been through before delivery

  5. Stuart

    well my children are entitled to free school meals, up today 27th of march the Mcauley catholic high school in Doncaster seems to have done nothing about it and has no information and your not even allowed to contact the school?? and they are not contacting parents to let them know either, so seriously what is happening??

    • You should have been receiving meals from the school daily (a packed lunch not a hot meal). If you haven’t received or even been offered the packed lunch then they should have sent a voucher. If they have done none of these then you should contact DMBC and inform them.
      I’m a business manager at a Doncaster school and the level of support you have just reported is disgusting. Please let me know how you get on.

      • Lisa

        Do you know if they are supposed to backdate the vouchers? My friend typed in her code and received a backdated amount, I put in mine and only received one week? We’ve had nothing from our school so far?

  6. Elizabeth

    I was told this was 2 weeks worth:
    1 packet cornflakes
    1 sliced white loaf
    1 tin peaches
    1 tin tuna
    1 tin beans
    1 packet biscuits
    1 litre uht milk
    3 bite size cheese packets.
    £30 worth? I think not.
    Someone somewhere is receiving £15/wk from the government to provide food for a child. Can we please make sure the child receives it. These are hard times for all so can we please ensure that catering companies are not subsidised at the expense of children’s basic needs. This is so wrong. All parents should receive vouchers

  7. simone

    I am entitled to free dinners for my daughter due to being on a low income. I was not sent a lunch ‘hamper’ or contacted about vouchers. I don’t know why its being assumed all in reciept of FSM had been supplied in this way.


    Ipersonally think that the vouchers are a better idea to be sent to parents especially as we are on a lockdown,and children being children,they are a biological disaster ,and spreading this virus is the last thing we need ,but i also feel for the companies who could go broke through this,i personally wouldnt like to make that desision

  9. Sharron Wildman

    Why are the government dragging their feet? Our caterers cooked at a separate school and our dinners were brought in from there (ours is an old Victorian school with no catering kitchen). They closed business so we have no one to cook for our free school meal children. We are lucky to have a community hub who will cook up take away food for families, but many are too scared to go out to get it. All families have to shop…we need those food vouchers for supermarkets than can ONLY be spent on food and our parents need them now to feed their families. I do hope the catering firms pleas are not seen as the answer for all schools? I really do hope something is put in place this week!

  10. Hi i need your help plz…. my child was supposed to get the free meals…the school says they dont provide food voucher but I need to collect the lunch every day…as I have health issues I can’t go to collect…she already missed couple of weeks of lunch… n finally they decided to drop the food package at home.. but to my surprise they dropped for a whole week lunch which was only 5 crisp 1 yogurt 5 apples 1 yogurt drink 2 small packet of ginger bread 2 sausage roll n a small portion of grated cheese in a small pot n 3 slices of chicken roll wrapped in a cling film….was this enough for a lunch for a week….please I need your advice the school is fooling me by sending crab stuff…Thks…at least there shoukd salad or something nice for my child to eat….please help what shoukd I do….

  11. Lisa

    This is the same for us. I have two young children on free school meals, we were self isolating due to my son having symptoms. I was told I could collect from school every morning their lunch for that day. I told them we were self isolating anyway and driving all the way to collect those packed lunches would cost me more in fuel that providing my own. I refused to collect them. So We have had no provisions from our school for Fsm from the start. We have now had the go ahead for the vouchers but Are the schools supposed to be backdating these vouchers? As my friend who has her children at a different school has had a bulk backdated amount? We haven’t!

  12. S. Freeman

    With 3 children chartwells packed 3 boxes, not identical. 2 had small cheese in, 3rd none. Small handful pasta so handled to put in plastic bag. One week we had 3 celories, another week 3 cucumbers . 2 tomatoes, 2 yoghurt in tube out of multi pack, one week bread another none. Little catering single use spread. Tin beans but small microwave in another. Apple or dark brown bananas like been in fridge, put crisps. Very poor. 45.00 of voucher money for about 12.00 food, also they bulk buy so cheaper. One week we had melon, but 3 was excessive. Multiple children boxes should be more varied. I would say school meals not great though as children always say they don’t like them and fat food cookies, brownie for pudding. Supposed to have choice but rarely get fruit or what dinner lady hands out