‘Morally correct’: Schools give families on free school meals money for half term food

‘How could you vote against feeding children?’ one head teacher asks

Clea Skopeliti
Thursday 22 October 2020 18:41 BST
More than 1.4 million children experience food insecurity, according to the Food Foundation
More than 1.4 million children experience food insecurity, according to the Food Foundation (PA)

Schools are stepping in to plug the gap left by MPs who rejected a plan to provide free school meals over the half term break, with one head describing it as “the morally correct thing to do".

Marianne Allan, who runs Cambois Primary School in Northumberland, said she was taking action after the Labour motion was was defeated by a majority of 61 on Wednesday.

The school will offer £15 each to the families of pupils who receive free meals to feed their children over the impending half-term break. More than half of the primary school’s 88 pupils are eligible for free school meals.

Ms Allen said: "It is morally correct and it is the responsible thing to do. I was quite shocked how anybody could vote against feeding children.

"We have a significant number of children who will be directly affected by this decision."

She said the school will fund the drive by using money raised in donations for the food bank that it also runs.

Meanwhile, Gregg Morrison, principal at Preston School, has also pledged to provide vouchers for next week’s break. 

Responding to Wednesday’s vote, Mr Morrison tweeted: “How could you vote against feeding children? I cannot remember such a significant decision that will affect so many.” 

He reassured families that the school would provide vouchers despite school budgets being tight, underlining: “We care about you and know what an impact it has.”

Boris Johnson had whipped Tory MPs to vote against the half term extension plan, arguing that it was not the job of teachers to “regularly provide food during the school holidays”.
Conservative minister Therese Coffey, who was speaking for the government on Wednesday, told MPs that “social justice has been at the absolute heart of every decision that this government has taken in order to help the people of this country get through the pandemic together”.

Mr Morrison told The Independent that he was “personally baffled" by the idea that students who need free school meals during term time "can survive during the holidays".

He said: “So many more families across the country are struggling and having to face some really stark choices on how to spend the little money that they have. Unfortunately the assumption that all students will attend school fed, watered, clothed and having had a good night’s sleep is long gone.”

He praised staff members’ dedication during lockdown, explaining that the school spent more than £12,000 on additional food vouchers due to alleged problems with the government’s scheme. Workers delivered the vouchers by hand, he said, as well as collecting charity hampers for families who were struggling.

Mr Morrison stressed that budgets were tight at the school, adding: “It is with mixed emotions that we announced that we would pay for our FSM students to have meal vouchers over the half term break. We really cannot afford this, nor should we have to, but our students’ health must come first.”

Ms Allan, the Cambois Primary School head, said that parents of pupils at her school were doing their best to provide for their children in difficult financial circumstances amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said some had lost their jobs and were waiting for six weeks for universal credit payments to start.

Last month, the unemployment rate rose to 4.5 per cent, up from 4.1 per cent in the previous quarter.

The head said the local community and businesses had been a huge help, adding that the bakery chain Greggs was funding the school to run a breakfast club. 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some 900,000 more children have signed up to receive free school meals for the first time this autumn, bringing the total number of children registered up to 2.2 million, according the Food Foundation.

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