This is my contribution to our first Bulletin now that the pandemic of Covid-19 has changed all our lives for the foreseeable future.
I must pay tribute to all the wonderful people in the school meals industry: managers, suppliers and above all staff working in the school kitchens. I have been in touch with lots of you and I am amazed at what is being achieved to feed not only the children still attending school but for those entitled to a free school meal. I urge you to try your hardest to continue to provide meals to as many children as you can.
I include below the following letter to Gavin Williamson, MP, The Secretary of State for Education. I think that it sums up the current situation and shows that there are many people and organisations supporting what you are doing.
Keep safe and Bulletin2 will be published on Friday with some of the fantastic work that is happening.
25th March 2020
The letter, dated Friday 20 March 2020, reads:
The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP
Secretary of State for Education
We write to you in response the guidance issued to schools on 19 March 2020:
COVID-19: free school meals guidance for schools.
We understand that government is ‘developing a national approach to providing support through supermarket and shop vouchers.’ Whilst we understand the need for an immediate pragmatic approach to feeding the 1.5 million children entitled to free school meals, we urge you to consider the consequences of delegating responsibility for feeding school children entirely to families who may be faced with multiple challenges at this time, and to consider how existing food services could be utilised to support children in a better way.
Where catering services are able to operate in schools, please ensure that funds available for free school meals are invested in those catering services, rather than investing in food vouchers for supermarkets. This will allow for better purchasing in terms of food quantity and quality, and enable schools to continue to provide food and other support for the most vulnerable children.
School caterers are best placed to feed children well at this difficult time, having the skills and expertise to provide a nutritionally balanced meal, mindful of special dietary needs and allergies.
Additionally, there are consequences for jobs and the economy. If the government funds a supermarket voucher scheme rather than prioritising investment of funds in existing school meal services, catering teams will lose their jobs. Wholesale distributors who supply school meals, already hit by the loss of private sector contracts, could also lose the public sector market resulting in more job losses.
School kitchens, that might otherwise be used to prepare free school meals to vulnerable children locally, may have to close if funds are diverted elsewhere, just when they could also be used to make meals for older and housebound people having to self-isolate over an extended period. School kitchens are a vital community food infrastructure at this time of national emergency.
Please also be mindful of the long term effects of diverting free school meal funding to parents and supermarkets, and consider the long term resilience of our excellent school meal service and the health of our most vulnerable children.
Stephanie Wood, Founder/CEO, School Food Matters and co-Chair School Food Plan Alliance
Jeanette Orrey MBE, co-Founder Food for Life and co-Chair School Food Plan Alliance
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain; the alliance for better food and farming
Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director, The Food Foundation
Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive, Chefs in Schools
James Bielby, Chief Executive, Federation of Wholesale Distributors
Leigh Powell, National Officer, UNISON
Michael Nelson, Director, Public Health Nutrition Research
Helena Houghton, Adopt a School Programme Director, Royal Academy of Culinary Arts
Barbara Crowther, Coordinator, Children’s Food Campaign
Dr Helen Crawley, Director, First Steps Nutrition Trust
Duncan Stephenson, Deputy Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health
Patricia Fellows MBE, School Meals Consultant
Geoff Tansey, Chair, Fabian Commission on Food Poverty 2014-15
Dr Sinead Furey, Lecturer, University of Ulster
Pete Ritchie, Executive Director, Nourish Scotland