Free school meals: Portsmouth and Hampshire councils reassure parents children 'won't go hungry'

CITY council chiefs have said children eligible for free school meals will receive a daily packed lunch to ensure they don’t go hungry during the coronavirus crisis.

By Neil Fatkin
Friday, 27th March 2020, 12:04 pm
Updated Sunday, 29th March 2020, 9:24 pm

When Boris Johnson announced schools would be closing to limit the spread of the dangerous disease he said a ‘voucher system’ would be introduced to ensure the provision continued. Free School Meals currently covers children of parents who are on benefits or low incomes and pupils in Year R to Year 2.

Cabinet member for education, Cllr Suzy Horton, has moved to reassure parents families won’t go without food.

‘All the city’s schools who are signed up to our catering contract provider will be receiving a grab-and-go packed lunch. Schools will be implementing their own system of collection but parents will basically come into school to collect children’s lunches,’ she said.

Caption: Portsmouth City Council cabinet member for education, Cllr Suzy Horton, has said a 'grab and go' packed lunch service will be available for families during the caronavirus crisis.

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Councils have been provided with a list of guidelines as to how to maintain food provision for disadvantaged families.

A statement on the government website said: ‘Under normal circumstances, schools are not expected to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children who are not attending due to illness or if the school is closed.

‘However, we expect schools to continue to provide support to these pupils if a pupil or family member are affected by coronavirus or your school is only open for certain groups or is closed temporarily.’

Park Community School headteacher, Chris Anders, has said the school will be providing a packed lunch for Free School Meals children. Picture: Sarah Standing (280619-2144)

While final details as to how the voucher system will work are still to be revealed, council’s have been told to contact caterers to ‘prepare meals or food parcels that could be delivered to or collected by families’.

The council had been considering maintaining a hot meal service in school canteens, however concerns over social distancing meant meal collection was a ‘more appropriate option’.

Cllr Horton said: ‘If one person from each family comes to collect packed lunches then we are preventing large numbers of children gathering in one place.’

To further reduce social contact, St Edmund’s Catholic School are planning on having a collection service on set days each week.

Headteacher, Simon Graham, said: ‘Parents can register to collect a packed lunch. To reduce social contact they will be distributed on two days each week and from different zones around school.’

‘Depending on how things evolve we may eventually offer a hot meal service.’

Hampshire County Council said food provision will be maintained for free school meal children.

Councillor Roz Chadd, executive member for education and skills, said: ‘We welcome the announcement by the education secretary the government will reimburse education settings to continue to provide school meals and we are awaiting further guidance and detail in terms of how a national voucher scheme will be operated.’

In the interim, Hampshire schools are putting their own systems in place.

Park Community School in Havant, which provides its own catering, have already put measures in place to ensure children don’t go hungry.

Headteacher Chris Anders said: ‘Hopefully the voucher system will provide flexibility for school meals. We are looking to provide a packed lunch service which can be collected from the school.’