Question to the Department for Education:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the cost to the public purse is of the contract with Chartwells UK for providing free school meals parcels to children.
The continuing provision of free school meals to children from out of work families or those on low incomes is of the utmost importance to this government.
School catering contracts are agreed locally, and the department does not hold a contract with Chartwells UK or any other provider to provide free school meals of lunch parcels to children. We have guidance in place allowing schools to decide the best approach for their pupils. This can be through lunch parcels, local vouchers or the national voucher scheme.
The images circulating of poor-quality food parcels are unacceptable. On 13 January 2021 my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education met with Chartwells and other leading school food suppliers and caterers to insist on urgent action to make sure lunch parcels meet the standards we expect. We are grateful to those firms who are working hard with schools to provide nutritious, balanced lunches for children.
If a parent is concerned about the standards of their lunch parcel, they should speak directly with their school. If a parent cannot resolve their concern through their school, they can contact the department. The department will make contact with suppliers where concerns are escalated, to ensure they are following the good practice guidance we have set out. We will also alert the school to confirm appropriate contract management arrangements are in place, so that immediate improvements are made.
We do not collect data on families that do not take-up their free school meals entitlement.
We know that take-up of free school meals is high, and we want to make sure as many eligible pupils as possible are claiming their free school meals, and to make it as simple as possible for schools and local authorities to determine eligibility.
To support this, we provide an Eligibility Checking System (ECS) to make the checking process as quick and straightforward as possible for schools and local authorities. We have also developed a model registration form to help schools encourage parents to sign up for free school meals, and we have provided guidance to Jobcentre Plus advisers so that they can make Universal Credit recipients aware that they may also be entitled to wider benefits, including free school meals.