The government finds itself in the midst of another row over free school meals in England after new guidance told schools they “do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term.”
The reason? “There is wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme”, the government says.
But there’s a catch. Separate guidance for councils on administering that programme says: “The COVID Winter Grant Scheme is not intended to replicate or replace free school meals and authorities should avoid duplicating provision where possible.”
Though it adds that “authorities may choose to offer COVID Winter Grant Scheme support to those families in receipt of free school meals, if they consider this to be appropriate in their area”.
So we’re left with a confusing picture: is the Covid Winter Grant Scheme intended to replace half term school meals or not? We put that to the Department for Education. A spokesperson told us:
“As was the case over Christmas, vulnerable families will continue to receive meals and other essentials over February half term via councils through the £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme launched last year.
“Our guidance is clear: schools provide free school meals for eligible pupils during term time. Beyond that, there is wider government support in place to support families and children via the billions of pounds in welfare support we’ve made available.”