Schools will be expected to make food parcels available for delivery or collection instead of using the national voucher scheme when more pupils go back from Monday.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed schools can begin a phased reopening from Monday as the government’s five tests on the coronavirus outbreak were being met.
In updated guidance published last night, the Department for Education said as schools open more widely, and their kitchens reopen, food parcels should be made available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are staying at home.
However, the new guidance says if the school catering service cannot provide meals or food parcels for children at home, they can continue to use the national voucher scheme for eligible pupils.
The guidance reads: “Arranging food parcels helps ensure that eligible children have access to a healthy free meal, and can also help the school to stay in contact with those families.
“We know that many schools have made excellent food parcel arrangements throughout this period.”
The DfE also said it is monitoring voucher orders at school level to “broadly check” if they are ordering in line with their estimates of eligible children, “recognising that for some schools this will be lower if they are providing food parcels or using a local arrangement”.
But, if the school’s order is higher than expected, the DfE may “speak to the school about why this has occurred and will take forward any necessary action to rectify the position”.
“A cross check will also be done for those making a claim for free school meals funding via the financial support available for schools.”
The guidance also asks schools to speak to their catering teams and food suppliers about the “most effective ways” to manage the ordering and delivery of food during this period.
Suggestions include ordering longer shelf life products during this period, such as frozen foods or food that can be easier stored at room temperature, and arranging fewer food deliveries each week compared with standard period when they school is open to all pupils.
Last week, Schools Week reported how school kitchens faced a planning “nightmare” for the return of pupils, with uncertainty and concern over numbers, food availability, rising prices and a lack of government guidance.
This week the government U-turned to fund free school meal vouchers during the half-term. Labour said it came “far too late” and caused “worry and confusion” for families living in poverty.
Human Rights Watch warned this week that schools and charities in England have had to distribute food directly to children from poor families since schools were closed after the voucher system became plagued with problems.
It claimed the government’s failure to ensure that all children have access to adequate food during school closures violates their right to food.