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Education bosses call for Government to reimburse Suffolk schools forced to fork out for free school meals during coronavirus crisis

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 has left some schools putting in place their own free school meal schemes to ensure pupils were fed.

Free school meals. Stock image (34980851)
Free school meals. Stock image (34980851)

Now, Suffolk County Council – which set up its own scheme for pupils between placements – has said it will lobby the DfE for schools to be reimbursed for those efforts.

Adrian Orr, assistant director for education, said: “Some Suffolk school leaders have really struggled to get on to the Edenred system.

“What they have done is put an alternative arrangement in place, funded from their own budget, in the absence of making the Edenred scheme work.

“We will be lobbying the DfE significantly about how those additional costs that schools have incurred are going to be covered.”

A spokeswoman from the DfE said refunds were available for schools where additional costs were incurred before the national voucher scheme was introduced.

She added: “We continue to encourage schools to work with their suppliers to arrange food parcels or collections for families eligible for free school meals.

“Where that is not possible, the national voucher scheme was launched for schools to provide supermarket vouchers, which is delivering for thousands of schools.

“Improvements have been made to Edenred’s technology system this weekend and we expect the company to continually improve to meet this unprecedented situation.”

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.

The county council’s Labour spokesman for education, Jack Abbott, said: “It cannot be right that schools, which 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 with limited access to equipment, the internet and learning spaces. The Government must reverse this decision to ensure that no child goes hungry.”

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