The government has made a U-turn on its decision over free school meals over the summer holidays following a successful campaign from footballer Marcus Rashford.
The footballer spoke out about his own experience of growing up in poverty in Manchester in a family dependent on free school meals and called for the voucher scheme which in England works out at about £15 a week per child to be extended over the summer holidays after many families have experienced financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said the 22-year-old footballer was right to have drawn attention to the issue. “I do think it’s right that we should be looking after families of the most vulnerable, and the neediest and that is why the Covid Summer Food Plan has been announced today and I hope it will make a big difference to those kids and their families.”
The government had previously said that the scheme would finish at the end of the summer term.
During 2019, around 1.3 million children claimed for free school meals in England.
Meanwhile, the Department for Education has joined forces with BT to open up millions of BT Wi-Fi hotspots to the most in-need children in England, to enable them to access online schooling and learning resources.
BT will provide in-need families with six months free access to the UK’s largest Wi-fi network, which extends to 5.5 million Wi-fi hotspots around the country. Access will be provided via a BT WiFi voucher-code system and will allow children to access the web on up to three devices at a time, for six months. The scheme will be offered to those who are most in need.
Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division, said: “Supporting children’s education in these difficult times is a major priority for BT. Through our Skills for Tomorrow programme, we already have a whole raft of fun and engaging online resources to help children learn at home. Offering up our Wi-fi hotspots estate will ensure that thousands more children will ultimately be able to keep up with their important digital learning and online schoolwork for the rest of term and over the Summer holidays as well as into the Autumn.”
Nick Gibb, School Standards Minister, added: “The government will do everything possible to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus. We have committed over £100 million to support pupils with remote education, including to provide laptops, tablets and 4G wireless routers to disadvantaged children and young people, and this initiative will build on that work. High quality internet access will continue to play an important role for children and families as we work towards pupils returning to schools in September, and I am hugely grateful to BT for their support in delivering this scheme.”
At the same time, primary schools in England are to be given greater flexibility to invite more pupils back to school if it has capacity and protective measures are in place. but only if the school has capacity within existing guidelines and if protective measures are in place.
From 1 June, children in early years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 began returning to classrooms. But updated guidance published this week gives heads and school leaders the ability to invite back additional children if – having invited back the pupils in eligible year groups - they are able and feel ready to do so within the existing guidance.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I want to make sure as many pupils as possible can get back into the classroom and be reunited with their friends and teachers before the summer, to support their wellbeing and education.
“We have a range of protective measures in place in schools to reduce the risk of transmission and I would like to encourage primary schools to invite more children back if they can maintain those existing guidelines.
“I would encourage parents to take advantage of a place if they are eligible, and I’d like to thank teachers and staff for all their hard work as we take the next step in our phased and cautious approach to returning all children to school,” he added.
This week, secondary schools welcomed back pupils in Year 10 and Year 12 and colleges will welcome back 16-19 students, with settings using a range of approaches to allow a quarter of students in at any one time.