The Government has agreed to extend a voucher scheme for children eligible for free school meals during the summer in England following a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
The Department for Education (DfE) had originally said the programme would finish at the end of summer term as free school meals are normally only offered in term time.
But vouchers will now be available to pupils in summer after calls from the footballer and campaigners. Here is what we know so far:
– How many children in England can apply for the scheme?
The Government has said around 1.3 million children in England – who are normally eligible for free school meals in term time – will be able to receive food during the six-week summer holiday period.
It is understood payment will be through a voucher, amounting to £15 a week per child, which will be given to eligible families to use in supermarkets.
– How have pupils been able to get meals during the pandemic?
When schools first began closing their doors in March, school leaders were making their own arrangements to try and ensure that vulnerable children were still being fed.
But then the Government announced a national supermarket voucher scheme for families of children entitled to free school lunches to cover the cost of a meal while schools were shut.
Under the scheme, these eligible families can receive supermarket vouchers worth £15 a week per child.
The Government also decided to fund the voucher scheme over the Easter holidays and May half-term, rather than just term time, following pressure from parents, pupils and school leaders.
More than 260,000 people signed a petition urging the Government “not to abandon children” by taking away free lunches during the May half-term and the six-week summer holidays.
– Have there been issues with the scheme?
When the scheme was first launched, head teachers warned that vulnerable families entitled to free school meals were missing out on food for their children amid technical difficulties with the system.
The vouchers can be sent out by email to families by the Department for Education’s supplier, Edenred, once a school has joined the scheme.
Schools can also claim the vouchers on behalf of families.
But heads struggled to log on to the website – and the school leaders’ union warned that some families were forced to put food back on the shop shelves after vouchers were rejected at the checkout.
In Wales, children on free school meals will be supported with food vouchers, meal deliveries or bank transfers over the summer holidays.
The Welsh Government, which was the first country in the UK to make the move, has provided £33 million to enable local authorities to continue free school meal provision until schools reopen.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans to extend free school meals through the summer.
She said £12.6 million will be made available to local authorities to continue the scheme from the end of June to August 11, the expected date for pupils returning to school.
In Northern Ireland, Stormont’s First Minister has proposed an extension of financial support to children eligible for free school meals over the summer.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the move would be dependent on funding being identified.