Marcus Rashford MBE calls for an urgent review of free school meals

The government is once again facing criticism after it emerged that headteachers in England have been told not to supply vouchers and food parcels to disadvantaged children over the February half-term holiday.

The dust has barely settled after a flurry of furious parents shared photos of the small food parcels they were sent.

Fresh guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) published this week states: Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term.” Instead, it says, there is already wider Government support available for families and children outside term-time through the Covid winter grant scheme.

While this at the moment is focused on free school meals, Marcus Rashford’s campaign is for all vulneralble children. Reports of child poverty are increasing at an alarming rate with many young children not getting the necessary nutrients needed for healthy growth.

A letter signed by Marcus Rashford MBE, Jamie Oliver, Dame Emma Thompson, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and over 40 NGOs, Charities and Education Leaders has today been sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on the Government to conduct an urgent comprehensive review into Free School Meal policy across the UK to feed into the next Spending Review.  

The letter coordinated by the Food Foundation details the main areas the review should cover: It needs to: 

  1. Review the current eligibility thresholds for Free School Meals across all four nations to eliminate disparities and to explore whether disadvantaged children are being excluded in line with National Food Strategy recommendation. The ongoing eligibility for children with No Recourse to Public Funds should be considered explicitly.  
  2. Urgently consider how funding for Free School Meals can deliver the biggest nutritional and educational impact, supporting children’s learning and well-being throughout the school day and during the school holidays (including breakfast provision and the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme). This should include whether the current allowance for Free School Meals is adequate and whether funding for national breakfasts adequately covers all who would benefit from access to provision. 
  3. Explore how schools can be supported to deliver the best quality school meals which adhere to school food standards and which ensure the poorest children receive the best possible offer, including by introducing mandatory monitoring and evaluation on an ongoing basis of Free School Meal take-up, the quality/nutritional adequacy of meals, and how the financial transparency of the current system can be improved. 
  4. Consider what we have learned from Covid-19 and its impact on children in low-income families and the implications of this for school food policy for the next 5 years, as the country recovers. 
  5. Consider how existing school food programmes (such as Free School Meals, holiday and breakfast provision) can eliminate experiences of stigma for the poorest students. Review the impact that Universal Infant Free School Meals has had on stigma, health and education.  
  6. Consider the role of family income (wages and benefits) in enabling families to afford quality food in and outside of school time and during the holidays with choice and dignity.  

The process should involve input from all the devolved nations and done in consultation with children and young people, as well as teachers, charities, NGOs, frontline catering staff and school meals service providers. It should draw on evidence of food insecurity and health inequalities.   

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