Free school meal scheme set for half term

A free school meal scheme operated by Essex County Council (ECC) will next run during the February half term, it has confirmed.

Over the two-week Christmas school holiday, ECC provided free school meal vouchers worth £30 each for 34,412 eligible children and young people at schools and colleges in the county council’s area.

Vouchers were funded through the COVID-19 Winter Grant Scheme and distributed via schools and colleges.

Eligible families received the full allowance of £15 per child per week.

The same scheme will be running during the half term between February 15 and February 19.

ECC has spent just over £1 million expanding the budget to meet demand.

ECC has outlined that during term time schools and colleges are responsible for providing free school meals (FSMs) and receive government funding to do so.

National guidance says that schools are expected to work with their existing catering team or food provider and can provide food parcels or vouchers in place of the one meal-a-day eligible pupils would receive in school.

Councillor Louise McKinlay, cabinet member for children and families at ECC, said: “Our school holidays Free School Meal Scheme ensured the parents of every eligible child received vouchers for the two weeks that they were off school over Christmas and we’ll be doing the same for February half-term.

“During term time, schools and colleges are responsible for free school meals in line with national guidance.

“I know our Essex schools and colleges are working hard to provide food not just for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children who are in school but also to get parcels or vouchers to the parents of eligible children who are at home during lockdown so they can give them lunch.

“We look forward to a further government announcement about this national scheme.”

Images have circulated on social media recently revealing free school meal parcels sent to families including a £30 parcel estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the food parcels as “woefully inadequate”.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter