Parents hit out at 'woefully inadequate' free school meals

Fay Emery, a mum-of-five from Swaffham, who is among those unhappy with the provision of free school meals.

Fay Emery, a mum-of-five from Swaffham, who is among those unhappy with the provision of free school meals. - Credit: Fay Emery

Norfolk parents have raised concerns about "woefully inadequate" free school meals being provided to some pupils at home during lockdown. 

Downing Street has said the contents of some food parcels sent to families are “completely unacceptable” and that the Government is urgently looking into the issue.

More pupils in Newham are relying on free lunches than this time last year. Picture: Chris Radburn/P

During lockdown, schools have been told to continue supporting children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home during term time. - Credit: PA

It came as the Department for Education faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme after images shared on social media showed poor quality and low value packages sent to families during the lockdown.

A patchwork of provision of free meals for children learning from home across Norfolk means while some families are receiving weekly food parcels or supermarket vouchers, others have been receiving items intended to provide a cold daily ‘packed lunch’. 

Fay Emery, a mum-of-five from Swaffham, said while some of her children had received vouchers she was unhappy that two had been provided with a loaf of bread, five pieces of cheese and five slices of ham, together with fruit cakes and bottles of water.

Fay Emery, a mum-of-five from Swaffham, who is among those unhappy with the provision of free school meals.

Fay Emery, a mum-of-five from Swaffham, who is among those unhappy with the provision of free school meals. - Credit: Fay Emery


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“This is far from the value of a meal and there is nothing nutritional about it. It’s shocking,” she said.

“I have seen people who have got parcels with fruit, vegetables, potatoes and carrots and I would have been happy with that to cook a hot meal. 

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“The value of the vouchers is £15 a week each but what the two at high school have received I could have bought for £1.70.”

Items provided as free school meals for children of Fay Emery, from Swaffham.

Items provided as free school meals for children of Fay Emery, from Swaffham. - Credit: Fay Emery

Doctors at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for a review of food packages delivered to pupils eligible for free school meals.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford – who has been behind a drive to get free school meals to children who need them – also shared images of what appeared to be the parcels, saying they were "just not good enough".

It prompted Downing Street to stress food in parcels should be healthy and that the contents of some were “completely unacceptable”.

The Department for Education (DfE) and the minister for children, Vicky Ford, was looking into the issue “urgently”, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing.

"Food parcels should contain food that parents can use to make healthy lunches throughout the week," he added.

City councillor Karen Davis, working at the NR2 foodbank. Picture: Karen Davis

City councillor Karen Davis, working at the NR2 foodbank. - Credit: Karen Davis

Labour councillor Karen Davis, cabinet member for social inclusion on Norwich City Council, who is also involved in running the NR2 food bank, said: “If the Government expects children to work from home those children need to not be hungry.

“There are going to be a lot of parents who are going without meals to make sure their kids are fed and this is disgusting. 

“Many of these items also don’t have ingredients on them. How are people to know if they have children with allergies?”

Free school meal lunch delivered to a teenager in Brundell.

Free school meal lunch delivered to a teenager in Brundell. The apple was so bruised it was inedible. - Credit: Submitted

She said the NR2 food bank was providing families in Town Close with food packages including cheese, eggs, rice, pasta, cereals, fruit and veg and tinned goods. 

“If we are able to do this for a pittance to get good quality food into children why can’t the Government do it with enormous contracts?” she said. 

Former Suffolk head Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: “The Government needs to get a move on with reopening the national free school meal voucher scheme.

“Schools have been left having to piece together provision by arranging for food parcels and local vouchers. As we have seen from these images online of inadequate food parcels, this can go wrong, and we need the availability of a universal system.”

What are the free school meal rules for pupils who have to stay at home?

Department for Education (DfE) guidance says schools should work with their school catering team or food provider to provide food parcels to eligible free school meal children at home during the lockdown.

The guidance, updated on Friday, adds that schools can also provide meals by providing vouchers for a local shop or supermarket, or by using the DfE’s national voucher scheme, “which will reopen shortly”.

Food parcels which should contain food items as opposed to pre-prepared meals and should not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home. They should also cater for pupils of all diets.

To recognise extra costs of provision for pupils at home, schools can claim for additional funding of £3.50 per week for each eligible pupil receiving food parcel provision at home, or up to £15 where vouchers are being provided.

Norfolk parents experiences of lockdown free school meals

- Michaela Vincent - “We’re having packed lunches dropped off for my son who attends high school. I’m extremely grateful, I don’t understand people complaining or moaning when receiving help. Those that get the food boxes delivered seem to forget they are only to replace lunch not a week's food."

- Tonia Harradine - “I am getting supermarket vouchers which is far better because with this I am able to provide cooked meals by choosing wisely. I would think it would be helpful to enable these vouchers with online shopping, thus reducing the need to visit the shop weekly.

- Jo Gibbs - “We walk up to our school every day to pick up my kid’s hot lunches but my son’s high school gives us a voucher of £15 a week.”

- Scott Marrison - “Someone, somewhere is making money from these packages. There is no way you get £15 worth of food in them.”

- Elaina Wiksten - “People shouldn't have to be grateful for a loaf of bread, a couple of potatoes and some cheese. It's more the point of how much money is allocated per child and how much of that is changed into food. Who is making the money from this?”

- Emma Ringer - “We're getting a £15 voucher each week. I don't know why it's different for different schools. It would be helpful to a lot of people to be able to spend them online with the supermarket of their choice as many can't or don't want to go out.”

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