Briefing on Free School Meals (FSM) – updated 7 May 2020

Following the closure of schools on Friday 20 March the provision of Free School meals, for those children attending and not attending school, has been a matter for head teachers to decide. Initially this was in discussion with their school catering service and more recently it has also included the implementation of the national voucher scheme for Free School Meals.

The national voucher scheme was announced on 19 March and the system was in place by 31 March. The scheme is an online service for schools, allowing them to place orders for supermarket gift cards on behalf of parents and carers. These are worth £15 a week per child and families can receive codes by email to redeem themselves, or as a gift card by post to families without internet access.

This funding is to replace the provision of a school lunch on school days only for the child. Consequently this funding is so the parents can make that lunch provision of one lunch per day for each eligible child, it would not cover the cost of other meals on school days, snacks or weekend meals, or meals for adults in the home. (A useful benchmark could be that a supermarket “meal deal” costs £3 and includes a sandwich + drink + snack).

This arrangement is only open to cover week-days during term-time, to the children of families in state-funded schools*, in receipt of benefits-related free meals, who are not attending school.

This does not include families currently receiving the “universal FSM offer” for children normally accessing full-time education in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 2; families of children in these year groups who meet the eligibility criteria for free meals must apply in order to take part in the scheme (families can check if they are eligible here and, if so, would need to apply here).

* Children in independent schools are not eligible for the scheme, including where pupils otherwise eligible for FSM have been moved from mainstream to independent special schools.

Children who are Elective Home Educated are not eligible as they are not “pupils”.

Families have always been encouraged and supported to complete this process as it opens up other support for the child as well as the provision of a free lunch on school days.

Headteachers can decide which of the available options is best for families in their area. Schools can either provide food on site for those in attendance, arrange deliveries of food to homes or a central point. Alternatively, they can purchase a voucher to be given to the family to provide a packed lunch for those attending school or food at home for those who are not. Schools that elect to do this will be able to reclaim their outlay up to the value of £15 per pupil per week.

Guidance for schools and local authorities on free school meals arrangements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was originally published by the DfE on 19 March 2020 and this is frequently updated. Most recently it was amended to clarify eligibility, access over the Easter holiday period and issues relating to the implementation of the national voucher scheme through Edenred. The last update was on 30 April 2020. The full guidance can be found at support for pupils eligible for free school meals. This includes a helpful question and answer section.

An alternative source of frequently asked questions is here: Free School Meals & Covid-19 FAQ. Edenred which operates the national voucher scheme has produced a guide for parents which is regularly updated and can be found here.

In Lancashire a daily bulletin has been produced to support schools since 23 March 2020 and this has included regular updates and information about the provision of FSM; featuring in fifteen of the bulletin updates until the 27April. This information has also been shared with parents via social media.

A dedicated email address has been established for schools to forward their queries and concerns about a range of coronavirus matters, including access to and the operation of the national scheme for FSM. These concerns are shared with the DfE in the regular meetings held between the DfE and the Local Authority. Whilst concerns still remain about access to the scheme, which are impacting on families, the Local Authority is working proactively with Edenred the provider to address these by managing queries directly with their customer service team.

Schools have also been supported since the launch of this offer through daily school adviser calls; this has identified pressures within the system quickly and enabled dedicated local authority staff to work directly with Edenred to ensure that delays in the system are addressed and families receive support as quickly as possible.

For further information please contact:
The Senior Advisor link for the Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) in each area:
ICP 4 West Lancashire: Lee Pimlott
Special Schools: Will Gale

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