Guidance On Free School Meals

We know that schools and education settings are concerned about the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on pupils currently eligible for benefits-related free school meals.

This guidance explains what schools should do to make sure eligible pupils have continued access to free school meals where:

  • the pupil has to stay at home because they and/or wider family members are displaying coronavirus (COVID-19) related symptoms
  • the school is only open for certain groups or is closed temporarily

Support for pupils who have to stay at home

Under normal circumstances, schools are not expected to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children who are not attending due to illness or if the school is closed. We expect schools to continue to provide support to these pupils if:

  • they/or a family member are affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • your school is only open for certain groups or is closed temporarily

We understand that schools will have different approaches to how they currently provide free meals to disadvantaged children.

You may currently provide free school meals using:

  • an in-house catering team
  • a local authority catering service
  • a private catering provider

The steps you take to support pupils affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) might be different depending on the individual circumstances of the school.

Contact your catering team

You should 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.

If you use a local authority catering service, you should check if they have a scheme for providing meals or food parcels to vulnerable groups affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you use a private catering provider, contact them to see what alternative arrangements are available.

Other options if you cannot provide meals or food parcels

If you are unable to use your current provider to continue offering free school meals, consider:

  • using other local initiatives – this could be a local school acting as a community hub, or a local charity
  • providing families with supermarket vouchers

Supermarket vouchers

We are currently developing a national approach to providing support through supermarket and shop vouchers. We will provide further details shortly.

If your school is closed and your school catering team cannot provide meals or food parcels, you should offer families of pupils eligible for free school meals an alternative.

You can order supermarket and shop vouchers directly from a number of retailers – usually through their corporate division. We recommend sourcing vouchers for supermarkets or shops in the local area. Where possible they should be restricted for use against age-related products.

You’ll get a choice of:

  • e-vouchers (where available) - which you can email directly to parents
  • gift cards - which may be more suitable if parents do not have access to the internet

You should check which pupils are eligible and currently in receipt of free school meals, and vouchers should be made available to the parent or the adult with caring responsibility for that child.

Additional costs

We understand that some of these approaches may mean that schools and other educational establishments go to additional expense.

We will provide further guidance shortly on how we will compensate schools who incur additional costs in providing free school meals or vouchers to pupils affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).