DfE abandons Easter holiday hunger pilot after summer trial

The government will spend another £9 million testing solutions to holiday hunger across England, but has abandoned plans to run a pilot in the Easter and summer holidays next year.

According to tender documents seen by Schools Week, the Department for Education is seeking organisations to test the “co-ordination” of free holiday provision, including “healthy food and enriching activities”, for disadvantaged children in nine local authorities during the 2019 summer holidays.

It follows a £2 million pilot this summer, a compromise by the government after MPs tried to force councils to provide free meals and activities for poor pupils in school holidays.

A DfE spokesperson told Schools Week the 2018 pilot “reached more than 18,000 children and helped us to find out how we can best support low-income families”.

The government originally pledged “a targeted pilot programme in the 2019 Easter and summer holidays”, but Schools Week understands that following feedback from this year’s programme, ministers have decided to “focus resources” on the summer.

Lindsay Graham, a food poverty campaigner, said she was “pleased to see this next step”, adding she was “not surprised” the Easter pilot had been abandoned.

“My guess is that is really down to timing,” she said. “Preparation for summer provision alone needs a decent planning period.

“Perhaps once the pilots are up and running the DfE should consider extending them into autumn or Christmas breaks next year instead. This might give some insight into what more would be needed at different times of the year.”

The news follows a number of attempts by politicians to force the government’s hand on food poverty.

In September 2017, Frank Field, a Labour MP, put forward a draft bill that placed a duty on local authorities to make sure disadvantaged pupils were fed during school breaks.

In November last year, Emma Lewell-Buck, the shadow children’s minister, introduced a draft law to force the government to collect data on food security.

Field’s bill was withdrawn following the government’s promise of research and pilot projects, while Lewell-Buck’s is due its second reading on January 25.