Free school meals guidance during COVID-19

31 Mar 2020

The government has announced that low-income families whose children are eligible for free school meals will be offered vouchers, food or meals to make sure they continue receiving this support, even if they are no longer attending school due to the coronavirus outbreak. Read the revised government guidance below:

COVID-19: free school meals guidance for schools

Eligibility for FSM

Both parents and schools can check with the LA which pupils are eligible. Many schools will hold this data in their MIS system or on the Free School Meals portal. There are a number of families who are currently eligible but have not registered for free school meals and will be unknown to the school. Your LA contacts are the Pupil support service 020 8825 5566 pupilsupport@ealing.gov.uk

Ealing Council eligibility checking system (Ealing Council website)

Key workers and other vulnerable groups attending school who are not entitled to Free School Meals will be expected to pay as usual for provision of meals if they wish to have them.

On Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM), the government has advised that free meals will only be provided for Infant age pupils who meet the FSM eligibility criteria or are attending school under current government guidelines (vulnerable or key worker criteria). This does not include the universal entitlement.

Easter

We previously advised that the LA was working to establish if free school meals were to be offered over the Easter break to those children not attending school, and agreed with Schools’ Consultative Group that this would preferable if they were able to do so. The government has now confirmed that this is not funded. Schools may choose to offer this support if they are able to do so within available resources but there will not be additional funding available for this purpose.

Where schools have already made provision which covers part of the Easter period (committed to before 31/3/2020) and this causes an overall school budget pressure, please contact Tamara Quinn TQuinn@ealing.gov.uk.

Catering

Speak to your school catering team (in house) or school catering provider to see if they can prepare meals or food parcels that could be delivered to or collected by families.

Schools have different approaches to how they currently provide free meals to disadvantaged children. Many schools are part of the Ealing Schools Catering Consortium (ESCC) serviced by Harrison Catering, PFI catering arrangements and a small number of other arrangements.

LA contacts:

Harrison’s Group managers are:

  • Kevin Rice – 07919100258
  • Kerry Brown - 07833 050825
  • Graham Simpson - 07825 621689
  • Godwin Williams – 07740582402

The PFI contracts mangers are:

  • PFI 1 Gustavo Abreau - 07825 0783 49
  • PFI 2 Clinton Adams - 07467 442791
  • PFI 3 Paul Boothman - 07866 123 064

Some schools have reported difficulty in purchasing food from supermarkets due to availability and supermarkets restricting the number of items purchased. This is affecting after school and breakfast clubs as well as schools preparing food parcels themselves. Please contact the LA representatives listed above and we will explore options.

This is a rapidly changing situation and it is becoming clearer what the take up is for those attending school, and those collecting FSM food parcels or being issued FSM vouchers. In the interim below are some examples of what schools are doing to protect staff and enable families to access the FSM offer.

Food parcels

Schools are working closely with catering providers to offer food parcels containing food to last 1 or 2 weeks. Schools are texting FSM parents and asking them to let the school know if they intend to take up the offer so they can plan numbers. Schools wishing to pursue this should use the contacts above or contact their provider directly.

Vouchers

Effective immediately, If your school is closed and your school catering team cannot provide meals or food parcels, the government is advising schools they should offer families of pupils eligible for free school meals an alternative. You can order supermarket and shop vouchers (for shops in the local area) directly from a number of retailers. Where possible they should be restricted for use against age-related products eg cigarettes, alcohol. Below are some useful links:

https://www.tescoforbusiness.com/

https://www.sainsburysbusinessdirect.co.uk/products/gift-cards/

https://www.voucherexpress.co.uk/

https://www.asdaforbusiness.co.uk/

https://wonde.com/

Schools could consider issuing vouchers for 1 or 2 weeks to take them to the Easter break, 3 April 2020 in the first instance.

In consultation with schools the LA is suggesting a consistent value across all Ealing maintained schools and academies of £3 per day. If a school has already issued vouchers it is not necessary to make further adjustments unless the school wishes to.

National voucher scheme

The DfE announced details of the national voucher scheme for children eligible for free school meals on 31 March 2020. Schools can now provide every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets while schools are closed due to coronavirus.

Schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this is not possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to families electronically, or as a gift card for those without internet access.

The vouchers can be spent on food at a range of shops including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S, with the Department working to get more shops to join the scheme as soon as possible.

Schools should have received an email on 31st March 2020 from the Department for Education’s chosen supplier, Edenred.

Details can be found at the DfE link in the first paragraph of this guidance.

Assistance for those unable to collect their food pack/vouchers or access eVouchers

Schools are asking parents to contact the school if they are unable to collect their food pack/vouchers or are unable to access an E-voucher. The LA is keeping further measures such as delivery under review. Please feed back any issues or requests for support to SENT-transport SENT-transport@ealing.gov.uk . There is a limited resource to redeploy and wherever possible schools are making their own arrangements.

Social distancing and self-isolation

Schools are reminding parents, students and staff of the social distancing and self-isolation government guidance and asking parents to send a friend or relative if they or their household have symptoms. Providing staff with PPE, reminding staff about regular hand washing when distributing food packs or vouchers, and keeping collection in a designated location to minimise circulation around the school site.

Primary schools unexpected closure protocol and proposed school partners

What happens to pupils’ FSM entitlement at the receiving school, who provides their lunch day to day?

Attending - The school who is accepting/receiving children from a closed school will provide meals. In most cases this will be in small numbers. The receiving school should keep records of these costs along with any other additional costs of FSM provision. The closing school should aim to provide information on the number of meals likely to be required so the receiving school can prepare.

Not attending but eligible for FSM support - schools are moving away from providing daily meals and are moving to food parcels or vouchers for 1 to 2 weeks and therefore should plan to continue this provision. Where this is not possible the closing school should contact the LA.

Reimbursing costs to schools

The government has indicated that it will provide further guidance shortly on how schools who incur additional costs in providing free school meals or vouchers to pupils affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) will be compensated. Current funding levels to schools for FSM 2020/21 is £2.71 per day, £515.76 per annum.

Until the government announces the mechanism for reimbursing schools, we ask that schools keep clear records of these commitments. Should this additional expenditure result in a cash flow issue schools are to contact SchoolsAccountancyServices SchoolsAccountancyServices@ealing.gov.uk and request for a cash advance.

Purchasing vouchers at year end

For schools that are purchasing school meal vouchers but have already closed their accounts and sent through finance returns to the LA, they will have to wait to record this until 1 April on the FMS system. It will mean that there will be a discrepancy between the bank rec and unreconciled amounts of the purchase of school meal vouchers. So, these schools (and all schools) should ensure there is a proper record of these payments, and evidence of these purchases.

Schools can still purchase the vouchers but may have difficulty in issuing BACs payments and system generated cheques. In these circumstances, schools should use a purchase card and may need to extend the limit.

Please contact bursarialservices bursarialservices@ealing.gov.uk or SchoolsAccountancyServices SchoolsAccountancyServices@ealing.gov.uk if you have any questions.

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Last updated: 01 Apr 2020

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