I was appalled to see the images of some free school meal parcels that circulated on social media in January. The lack of quality and quantity of those parcels was unacceptable, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary have both condemned them.
It is expected that parcels should be nutritious, contain a varied range of food, and that provision should not reply on parents having additional ingredients at home, and the parcels in those images did not meet the clear guidelines and standards set by the Government. I understand that one of the companies involved, Chartwells, has apologised and has vastly improved its offering.
The Government has taken several unprecedented steps during the pandemic to ensure that those eligible for free school meals continued to receive them, even if they were not attending school. I welcome that eligible pupils are receiving provisions during this current period of closures, and that the Covid Winter Grant Scheme will support families and children outside term time, such as during the February half-term.
Schools should provide support in the most appropriate way based on their local circumstances. If a school has confirmed with the school catering team or food provider that it is not in the best interest of pupils to provide lunch parcels, they can consider other local arrangements, including the national voucher scheme. However, I believe that parcels, done right, have a number of benefits, including speed of setup, as many school caterers will have experience of delivering food parcels, and supporting safeguarding through the opportunity to maintain regular contact with vulnerable pupils and ensure they receive healthy nutritious food.