The cancellation of exams including GCSEs and A Levels in summer 2020 led to a highly controversial process for issuing grades to students. This paper looks at plans for awarding qualifications in summer 2021. Updated following confirmation of the awarding arrangements for 2021.
Documents to download
Pupils-known-to-be-eligible-for-FSM (35 KB, Excel Spreadsheet)
The motion, in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, states:
That this House calls on the Government to continue directly funding provision of free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 to prevent over a million children going hungry during this crisis.
Policy Background (England)
The House of Commons Library briefing, School meals and nutritional standards (England) (June 2020) provides a policy background to the debate. The House of Lords Library’s Free school meals in the holidays: A permanent change? (September 2020) discusses the provision of free school meals during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Attached at the foot of this page is a file which breaks down pupils eligible for Free School Meals in England by parliamentary constituency.
A child may be eligible for Free school meals in England if they, or a parent, receive one of eight types of benefits or income support (listed on the Gov.UK, Free school meals webpage and the Library’s Free School Meals in England). In addition, children under the compulsory school age who are in full-time education may also be able to get free school meals. In maintained schools, academies and free schools, all children in reception, year 1 and year 2, are also eligible.
Except for children in infant school who receive meals as a matter of course, children will need to be registered to receive free school meals. During the coronavirus outbreak, eligibility for free school meals has been extended to include some groups of children who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) (Department for Education, Coronavirus: temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups, 23 September 2020).
During the coronavirus outbreak, meals or food vouchers were provided to children staying at home. Vouchers were provided during the 2020 Easter and May half-term holidays and the summer break. Some concerns were raised about how the voucher system operated. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a report into COVID-19 and food supply on 30 July 2020, which made recommendations regarding the national voucher system used. Pages 8-10 of the UK Government response, COVID-19 and food supply, published on 9 October 2020, detail its response.
The Education Select Committee’s The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services has also heard oral and written evidence relating to the topic. This includes correspondence between the Chair of the Committee, Robert Halfon MP, to the Department for Education in June and the reply by UK Government Departments in July relating to the provision of support targeted at children who are living in families entitled to free school meals.
Latest Department for Education guidance on Providing free school meals during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was published on 23 September 2020.
UK Parliamentary Debates
A short debate was held in the House of Lords on 14 September 2020 on Schools: Free Holiday Meals and Activities.
A previous debate was held in the House of Commons on the topic of Free School Meals: Summer Holidays in June 2020.
Recent reports and campaigns
In 2019, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned Henry Dimbleby to conduct an independent review to inform a future National Food Strategy. His first report, National food strategy: Part One (July 2020), recommended that the UK Government expand eligibility for free school meals to include every child from a household where a parent or guardian is in receipt of universal credit or equivalent benefits.
The Economics Observatory published What difference will the COVID Summer Food Fund make to children’s lives? in July 2020, which assessed the potential impacts of the Food Fund on the educational attainment and health of children from low-income households.
An e-petition “End child food poverty – no child should be going hungry” calls upon the UK Government to implement three recommendations from the National Food Strategy, through “expanding access to Free School Meals, provid[ing] meals & activities during holidays to stop holiday hunger & increase[ing] the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme”. The Food Foundation submitted a representation to the Compressive Spending Review in September 2020 calling for same priorities to be met.
The petition is currently awaiting a response from the UK Government.
Recent UK Parliamentary Questions
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many children registered for free school meals did not take up their entitlement in 2019-20.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to increase uptake of free school meals.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that all disadvantaged children are able to access a free school breakfast.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the summer food payment scheme, and (2) the ability of recipients to use e-gift cards for non-school items.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many children in England are (a) eligible and (b) registered for free school meals.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he plans to provide free school meals to eligible children over the (a) autumn half-term and (b) Christmas holiday period.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the pilot Summer 2020 Holiday Activities and Food programme; and whether he plans to roll that programme out across the UK.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will discuss with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the potential merits of extending the COVID Summer Food Fund for school holidays in the 2020-21 academic year.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether free schools meals are being offered to all pupils in the first three years of primary school in England.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what proportion of children eligible for free school meals (a) did and (b) did not apply for support from the COVID Summer Food Fund before the deadline.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to provide a healthy and nutritious school lunch programme for the forthcoming academic year.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the COVID Summer Food Fund, whether the alternative support of up to £90 per pupil can be used to (a) make cash payments to families, (b) pay for the production and distribution of meals and (c) provide free school meal support in other ways.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will continue the provision of food vouchers for children in need beyond the summer period.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the timeframe is for the reinstatement of funding for the national School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he plans to amend regulations to make the application of school food standards mandatory in all state-funded schools.
Press Releases (UK)
Scottish Government, Funding for those who need it most, 20 October 2020
Child Poverty Action Group, Wales: over half of children in poverty missing out on free school meals, 16 October 2020 [Full Briefing: Expanding eligibility for free school meals in Wales]
Welsh Government, Marcus Rashford MBE backs Welsh Government decision to ensure free school meal provisions for every school holiday until Easter 2021, 15 October 2020
Children’s Commissioner for England, Lifting children out of poverty and eliminating child hunger is a moral imperative, 13 October 2020
Welsh Government, £420,000 will ensure access to free school meals for learners shielding or self-isolating, 20 September 2020
Child Poverty Action Group, Expanding eligibility for free school meals, September 2020
Scottish Government, Free school meals extended, 16 June 2020
Department for Education, Free school meal availability, 16 June 2020
Children’s Commissioner for England, Our letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding free school means during the Covid-19 pandemic, 8 June 2020
Healthy Living UK, Greta Defeyter and Emily Mann, The free school meal voucher scheme: What are children actually eating and drinking?, June 2020
Department for Education, Free school meals & Covid-19 FAQs, 17 April 2020
Department for Education, Voucher scheme launches for schools providing free school meals, 31 March 2020
Department for Communities, Ministers take action in relation to free school meals payment, 26 March 2020
[NI] Department of Finance, Ministers announces free school meals payment, 2020.
Food Foundation, Free school meals holiday provision in England: Parliamentary Facts and Figures briefing, 2020.
Recent news articles (UK)
The following includes a selection of news articles relevant to this debate. Please note that the Library is not responsible for either the views or the accuracy of external content.
Wales extends free school meals to every school holiday until Easter 2021, i Newspaper, 15 October 2020
Surge in number of UK children applying for free school meals, The Guardian, 12 October 2020
Marcus Rashford backs MPs’ push for free school breakfasts, The Guardian, 12 October 2020
Around three in 10 school-aged children are on free school meals, research claims, The Independent, 12 October 2020
Justin Welby urges schools to extend free meals over Christmas, The Telegraph, 1 October 2020
“No decision” on continuing free school meals during holidays after 100,000 NI children aided during summer, Belfast Telegraph, 28 September 2020
Douglas Ross pledges free school meals under Scottish Tories, The Herald, 18 September 2020
Marcus Rashford brings brand giants together to tackle child food poverty, BBC News, 1 September 2020
Call to expand free school meals programme to tackle poverty and obesity, The Telegraph, 29 July 2020
Coronavirus: What’s happening to free school meals this summer?, BBC News, 29 July 2020
England’s free school meals scheme to close for new claims over summer, The Guardian, 14 July 2020
Coronavirus: Funding found for free school meals, health and the arts, BBC News NI, 30 June 2020
Government sets up £120m “Covid summer food fund” after free meal vouchers U-turn, Schools Week, 16 June 2020
Free school meals in NI to be extended over summer, Belfast Telegraph, 20 June 2020
MPs echo England footballer’s call for free school meals extension, Financial Times, 15 June 2020
School meals: Almost 2,000 families are not receiving meal money, BBC News NI, 8 May 2020
Free school dinners “led to fall in childhood obesity”, The Observer, 8 March 2020
Documents to download
Pupils-known-to-be-eligible-for-FSM (35 KB, Excel Spreadsheet)
This briefing paper looks at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools and pupils. It largely focuses on England, and has been updated following the Prime Minister's February 2021 announcement of the wider reopening of schools in England from 8 March 2021.
This House of Commons Library briefing sets out the rules relating to the provision of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) in England, as well as statutory health education from 2020