DfE 'should extend free schools meals scheme' as settings set to open over Easter
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Local authorities will keep schools open over the Easter holidays for the children of key workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to calls for the government to provide free school meals for eligible families over the two-week break.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced schools would close to most children on 16 March as part of measures to stop the spread of the disease, also known as Covid-19.
Exceptions were made for the children of key workers, including NHS workers, teachers and social workers, and vulnerable children including those in care and with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Department for Education guidance states that schools had been asked “wherever possible, to maintain provision for children of workers critical to the Covid-19 response over the Easter holidays”.
Increased opening hours has led to calls for the government to provide free school meals over the two-week break.
The government has launched a voucher scheme for families whose schools are unable to provide food through in-house catering teams which entitles them to £15 per week to be spent at a number of supermarkets.
However, this is only available during term-time with official guidance adding that “schools can decide how to use their existing food suppliers during the school holidays.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary at the National Education Union, said: "This isn’t a normal school holiday and we are asking teachers and support staff to volunteer to work, in support of the NHS. Families on low incomes will need access to school meals during this fortnight, particularly as food banks are seriously overstretched and it is much harder to shop affordably at the moment."
Councillor Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Working alongside schools and other children's services providers, councils are doing everything in their power to support the government to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government’s announcement this week that families with children on free school meals are eligible for food vouchers is positive news, however we continue to raise with the Department for Education that the government should also consider extending the recent voucher scheme to cover families over the school holidays.”
Schools in Suffolk and East Sussex are among the first councils to vow to provide provision for children, including vulnerable children, who cannot be looked after at home.
Suffolk Council said it is putting measures in place to provide both school and early years provision over the holidays.
“For some schools this may include opening over bank holidays,” the council said.
However, Suffolk advised parents that provision may vary over the holidays and said they must contact their child’s school for further information.
The council has also launched a helpline (01473 263985) for parents to call if their child’s school closes over the holiday.
Children who are able to stay at home should do so, the council added.
Councillor Mary Evans, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills said: “Once again I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone across the education sector. I am extremely grateful to schools and early years settings which are able to open for vulnerable children and children of key workers over the Easter break.
"I appreciate that in normal circumstances the teachers, staff, leaders and managers at schools and early years settings would have been looking forward to time off now and it is a tribute to their dedication that they are prepared to come in to work.”
East Sussex Council has praised scores of volunteers who responded to a plea for help to keep schools open for two weeks from 6 April.
Nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools will join forces to cater for 1,000 vulnerable children and children of key workers over the Easter holiday.
Peter Marchant, head teacher at Cavendish School in Eastbourne, said: “Children are very resilient and adapt very quickly to new situations. We’ve got children from different schools all getting on very harmoniously and they’ve made new friends.
“The staff have been brilliant. I sent an email out asking for volunteers to work over Easter and the next morning over 20 people came forward. Staff who are not actually in school are also doing a great job dealing with requests from parents and helping children learn at home.”