Coronavirus: National free school meal voucher scheme launches

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools can now provide every child eligible for free school meals (FSM) with a weekly voucher worth £15 to help them cover the cost of meals while they are being home schooled.

The national scheme has been put in place by the Department for Education (DfE) and schools are to be emailed today by chosen provider Edenred.

However, the DfE has said it will not be funding FSM during the two week Easter period (April 6 to 17) despite the government having asked schools to remain open during this time.

The vouchers can be spent in six supermarket chains – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S – with the DfE working to get others to sign up to the scheme.

The voucher scheme will remain in place while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the DfE has this week updated its coronavirus FSM guidance to schools (DfE, 2020).

To date, schools have been making their own local arrangements for FSM, providing meals for collection or delivery themselves or via their catering service or local authority. Schools can continue with these provisions or they can opt to provide vouchers to families electronically or as a gift card.

Once schools are emailed by supplier Edenred, they will have two options:

  • Order vouchers individually online and have a code sent via email to each family. The family can then show the code on their phone at the supermarket.
  • Arrange a bulk order of multiple codes and receive an Excel spreadsheet to help schools organise sending on to a family, or create a gift card for a preferred supermarket to be posted to a family if parents cannot get online.

Around 1.3 million children receive FSM, with schools normally receiving £2.30 per meal. The voucher scheme is offering families £3 per meal recognising that they will not be buying food in bulk and may therefore incur higher costs.

Commenting on the launch, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Let’s be under no illusions. This will be a tough situation for struggling families. They will have to provide lunches for each child for £3 a day, which is obviously not very much. We recognise that this is above the rate that is paid to schools, to allow for the fact that families cannot order food in bulk in the same way. Nevertheless, it will be challenging for parents and carers who already have the extra cost of children unexpectedly at home for an extended period. We will be monitoring the situation with our members and representing their feedback to the government.”

However, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was "disappointing" that the DfE has not made FSM vouchers available over the Easter fortnight. He added: "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."

Supplier Edenred will be sending schools an activation email via which they can access the Edenred portal. Schools can then create their vouchers, including weekly rolling vouchers or combined vouchers for families with more than one child. The DfE’s guidance states that the vouchers should be made available to the parent or carer of the FSM child.

The DfE has said it will provide further guidance soon on how it will compensate schools who incur additional costs in providing FSMs or vouchers to pupils.


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