...and nationally, will it be a hattrick for Marcus Rashford?
"I thought it would be helpful to provide a local update," says Councillor Suzy Horton, who is Portsmouth's Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education. "This is the second version of this I have written because, by the time I had finished the first, the government had done another U turn!"
Don’t get me wrong, most of the U turns on Free School Meals and other school related issues have been very welcome, but it is not without a massive impact on already exhausted staff. It would be so much better for these decisions to be made heeding the loud voices from people on the ground.
At the time of writing, the advice from the government is that all children doing remote learning at home who are eligible for Free School Meals should be provided with either a lunch parcel or a voucher from the Department for Education (DfE)’s national voucher scheme, which will reopen on 18 January 2021. This decision yesterday, to reopen the voucher scheme, was as a result of widespread criticism of the quality and availability of the food parcels going out under the initial advice of the government.
Thankfully in Portsmouth we had already been working with schools to have a contingency in place before the latest U turn. We:
- worked with Secondary schools over Christmas to ensure vouchers would be available for children who wouldn’t be returning in the first few weeks (of course that was before the Lockdown announcement)
- worked with Caterlink (the council’s lunch provider) to ensure that parcels from next week are of the standard we would want to receive. This involved supplementing them with items supplied by a food charity
- were in the process of helping Primary schools set up their own contracts with Edenred (the voucher scheme the council used when we issues Christmas Vouchers)
It’s important to stress that schools can choose to make their own arrangements. Many schools in Portsmouth buy into council provision but not all of them. It’s also important to emphasise that the administration of the vouchers will be done via the schools, so any questions about eligibility or registration need to be directed to the schools.
It’s such a shame that this second U turn needed to happen, as it adds enormous pressure to our already overstretched school staff who are continuing to dig deeper whilst we are in the eye of the storm of this pandemic.
My thanks to all teachers and school staff and equally to all parents who are home schooling and, for many, working as well.
Councillor Suzy Horton - Portsmouth's Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education (Lib Dem councillor for Central Southsea Ward)
P.S I was shocked to hear this afternoon, just before sending this email, that the government have announced that the voucher scheme will not be available for families over half term. Thankfully, Portsmouth's Lib Dem council have already committed to doing this so no Portsmouth family will miss out. Perhaps there is another government U turn to come?