Here's how free school meals can be provided to disadvantaged children during the COVID-19 crisis
Many children across the North East are now being taught at home following school closures imposed by the UK Government in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
And as families get to grips with the new weekday routine, some have expressed concerns about how these changes will impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, some of whom can no longer attend school.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that schools would mostly close – remaining open only, where possible, to educate the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters.
Now, the Government has provided guidance to schools on how to support children who are currently eligible for benefits-related free school meals.
There are a number of steps that can be taken, depending on an individual school’s circumstances, to make sure the children who fall into that group can still get a meal.
This is what the advice says
Schools can still work to provide free meals to the eligible children if they have to stay home because they, or their family, are displaying coronavirus symptoms or if the school is only open to certain groups and they cannot attend.
Schools can look to provide the meals to them using an in-house catering team, a local authority catering service or a private catering provider.
Under normal circumstances, schools would not be expected to provide a free meal if the school is closed or if a child is ill, but exceptions have been made due to the spread of COVID-19.
How do I get the meal to an affected family?
School catering teams and providers should be asked if they can prepare meals into food parcels to be delivered, or picked up by other family members.
If a school is using a local authority catering service, they may have their own scheme in place to provide for vulnerable groups.
Private catering providers may also have alternative arrangements in place.
Who provides the meal and how it is dispatched depends on an individual school’s circumstances.
What if our school can’t provide a meal?
Schools are being asked to consider providing families with supermarket vouchers, or other alternatives, if they are not in a position to offer meals to their affected children.
The Government has confirmed that work is underway nationally to provide support to families through supermarket and shop vouchers, with further details expected to be announced in due course.
Supermarket and shop vouchers can be ordered by schools from a number of outlets – and the Government has already confirmed it will assist with any additional expenses for schools who are providing this service.
Vouchers are usually available as electronically or as giftcards, and should be made available to the parent or guardian of the eligible pupil.
How long will schools be closed for?
Schools, colleges and childcare providers have been largely closed by the Government until further notice.
Alongside the other COVID-19 measures, this closure is expected to be regularly reviewed with updates provided to the public.