Free school meals in England to be replaced with grant from local authority over February half-term

Schools will not provide free school meal lunches in the February half-term, the Department for Education confirmed on Thursday, risking another backlash after it was forced into a U-turn on the issue last year.

It comes just a day after the Department for Education published guidelines on the provision of free meals by schools, following pictures on social media of "woefully inadequate" free school meal parcels.

Images circulated on social media have revealed the free school meal parcels sent to families, included a £30 parcel estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.

The guidance reads: "Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half-term."

Instead, the government has said there is already wider financial available to help families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.

The government has put £170million into the Covid Winter Grant Scheme which aims to support those most in need across England - and in particular help with the cost of food, energy, water bills and other essentials.

The scheme had been set up after rallying calls from footballer and anti-poverty activist Marcus Rashford, who has helped to encourage the government into a series of U-turns over free school meals.

The National Education Union (NEU) has criticised the Government’s scheme to offer free food to struggling families in England over February half term.

Families are facing an unprecedented situation over the winter due to Covid-19. Credit: PA

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, warned of potential disruption to free schools meals provision during the break.

He said: "Suggesting that local councils will be able to recreate a brand new system of supplying free school meals for the week of half-term using the Covid Winter Grant Scheme is an unnecessary logistical nightmare, and the confusion and chaos this could cause will put millions of children at risk."

On the provision of free school meals during the half-term, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: "My understanding is they will continue during the February half-term, as they were over Christmas."