Calls to reimburse Suffolk schools left counting the cost for free meals
Suffolk education leaders are set to lobby the Government on reimbursing schools which have had to fork out for free school meals, following failings in the national programme.
The Department for Education (DfE) said a scheme was in place during the coronavirus lockdown where low income families would be given £15 per week in food vouchers through its provider, Edenred.
But issues in schools being able to access the website and problems for parents in downloading the vouchers nationwide has left some schools putting in place their own free school meal schemes to ensure pupils were fed.
Suffolk County Council – which set up its own scheme for pupils between placements such as people moving to the area or excluded pupils – has said it will lobby the DfE for schools to be reimbursed for those efforts.
Adrian Orr, assistant director for education and learning, said: “Some Suffolk school leaders have really struggled to get on to the system and what has actually happened is, while there is huge frustration among many school leaders about the Edenred approach, what they have done is put in an alternative arrangement in place funded from their own budget in the absence of making the Edenred scheme work.
“We will be, as a council, lobbying and challenging the DfE significantly about how those additional costs that schools have incurred to ensure children are fed are going to be covered when we move past this whole area.”
A DfE spokeswoman said refunds were available for schools where additional costs were incurred before the national voucher scheme was introduced.
She said ‘improvements have been made to Edenred’s technology system’.
However, questions have been raised over the scheme not agreeing to provide meals over the May half term week, which could leave schools having to fund measures.
Jack Abbott, Suffolk’s Labour spokesman for education, said: “It cannot be right that schools, who are already under enormous pressure, will again have to fund the vouchers themselves in order to feed their pupils.
"The educational impact of the lockdown has been particularly felt by children from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter