Devon County Council slams government’s ‘Victorian era’ free school meal scheme

Any families in Devon getting “not acceptable” free school meals are being urged to contact councillors with the evidence so the situation can be addressed.

Francesca Evans seaton.nub.news 

Devon County Council’s Cabinet heard that there was at least one school in Devon where food parcels that had been provided to parents were well short of the standards expected.

And they slammed the government’s “Victorian era” style solution of providing food parcels during lockdown rather than the voucher system that they provided during the school holidays.

Social media on Tuesday was flooded with images of “woefully inadequate” packages received by parents in place of the free school lunches that their children would usually receive at school.

Cllr Alan Connett, who represents the Exminster and Haldon ward, said that he had made aware that one school in his area had provided food parcels that were “ridiculous”.

He said: “Some of the food boxes are brilliant, but others were ridiculous and I can understand why parents were upset, so there is some variance in Devon.”

Cllr Rob Hannaford added: “As we have now found out there are problems in Devon, so I would urge any local families that are receiving inadequate and unacceptable food parcel, to please contact their local county councillors directly with the evidence to make sure that we are all aware where the problems are occurring to help action improvements.”

Cllr Roger Croad, Cabinet member for community, said that he totally agreed with the concerns over the food parcels and that he was much more in favour of the voucher scheme as an alternative.

He said: “We should make some strong representation to the efficacy of food parcels in this day at age. It smacks of a Victorian era and should be overcome and that is down to the government led one size fits all solution.

“The vouchers over Christmas went down well and the government needs to be aware of the dissatisfaction.”

More than 15,000 children across Devon received food vouchers this Christmas as part of a £1million programme by the county council to combat holiday hunger.

But while Devon County Council were responsible for issuing the vouchers over the holiday period, during term time, the funding from government goes directly to the schools.

Dawn Stabb, the council’s head of education, added: “Schools are told to use food parcels if they can. The majority of pictures seen were national but we have been made aware of one school in Devon where the food parcel was not acceptable and we will follow that up with the school.

“The council doesn’t commission any provision during term time for food parcels and it is all done through the school, but we have made the voucher system available for schools to buy into if they wish. Some schools are doing vouchers, some blended, and some food parcels, but I don’t have the figures at this time.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson subsequently told the Education Select Committee on Wednesday that he was “absolutely disgusted” by the photos of the food parcel’s contents, and that his department had made it clear “this sort of behaviour is just not right [and] will not be tolerated”.

He said the government would “support any school that needs to take action” and “name and shame those that are not delivering against the standards” set by the Department for Education and that schools will be able to offer vouchers rather than food parcels from next week.

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