Free school meal vouchers to continue over Easter holidays
Teachers' unions have welcomed a government decision that means families eligible for free school meals (FSM) will continue to receive financial help to buy food over the Easter holidays.
Last week ministers said qualifying families could claim shopping vouchers of £15 a week per child in term time.
Now the scheme will be extended in England over the two-week holiday.
Unions said the move would help prevent children going hungry, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove confirmed over the weekend that the vouchers would continue to be paid over the Easter holidays.
'Make a real difference'
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the leaders' union NAHT, said he was pleased to see the government "taking action to support some of the most vulnerable children".
"We know that for many children, lunch at school is their only hot meal of the day and, in some cases, their only meal full stop.
"The government is doing the right thing in stepping forward and making sure all children can continue to access the food they need."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Many struggling families will be finding it even harder than normal to make ends meet in the current emergency and with children at home for a long period.
"The extension of the voucher scheme will make a real difference in helping to alleviate the risk of children going hungry.
"We are particularly concerned about the impact of a prolonged shutdown of schools on these young people and their families, and are keen to work with the government on examining the full implications and what more support can be provided to them."
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ''It will be important to get the message out this week that children who qualify for FSM are covered by the national voucher scheme during the Easter holiday period.
''Parents who did not previously qualify for free school meals but whose income has reduced or stopped due to the coronavirus crisis, may qualify based on their new financial circumstances.
"Parents and carers should check local authority websites for how to apply."
Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said providing for vulnerable pupils, including those on free school meals and with special educational needs and disabilities, was a "top priority for councils and schools".
Ms Blake said the coronavirus pandemic had forced thousands of families into financial insecurity and warned that "many parents who did not previously qualify for free school meals may be eligible for them".
"We will continue to work with the Department for Education to ensure that these families have the certainty they need," she said.
Families are being issued with either an electronic voucher or gift card worth £15, to spend at supermarkets including Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S.
Around 1.3 million in children in England are entitled to free school meals and, until now, schools had been making their own arrangements.