Questions raised over how free school meals will work in Northumberland for children self-isolating or locked down
Labour has welcomed Northumberland County Council’s pledge on free school meals during Covid-19, but suggested that the devil is in the detail.
As we reported, the Conservative-run authority has reassured parents and carers that eligible Northumberland children will continue to get free school meals, even if they are self-isolating or off due to lockdown arrangements.
Schools will provide meal options for all children in Reception, Key Stage 1 or those who meet the benefits-related free school meal eligibility criteria.
They will also be provided to those eligible if they are self-isolating, have had symptoms or a positive test result themselves, are a close contact of someone who has coronavirus or are not attending school as a result of local lockdown arrangements.
Deputy leader of the opposition Labour group, Cllr Scott Dickinson, said: “This is certainly a bold and very welcome pledge, however, the logistics are huge, especially for rural areas.
“In some of our rural schools around half of the students are brought in by bus. We need more details about how this is going to be done. Will it be voucher systems or will it be down to the goodwill and dedication of the amazing staff in our schools to sort this out themselves?
“It is fine to make bold announcements, but worrying that this has been done without spelling out how it will work. Parents and families are already worried and school staff are already under huge amounts of pressure."
He added: “There are many children self-isolating in the county, many of whom will be entitled to free school meals. The scale of this is massive and the Labour group will be pressing on behalf of families and school staff to find out exactly how the council thinks this can be done.
“I would always support this type of scheme, but resources and support are key. Teachers and support staff have done a remarkable job, but the council needs to recognise that this promise, as positive as it is, must be backed by putting greater resources into schools to deal with it.”
Parents and carers are encouraged to speak with their school to discuss arrangements for their child dependent on their needs.
The council’s executive director for children’s services, Cath McEvoy-Carr, said: “Some families rely on their child receiving a free school meal, so it is important that this is a continued offer for them.
“Our schools are working hard to ensure this can be the case, but every school will be different, so please speak with them if your situation has changed or if you are concerned how this will work for you.”