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Knowsley schools forced into last minute free school meals change

by Sandra Issar

Schools across Knowsley will need to transfer to the Government’s national free schools meals system to be guaranteed to be able to recoup the full costs of providing free school meals during the summer break.  In an email to Knowsley Council, the Department for Education clarified its position after being asked for a response on several previous occasions.

In Knowsley, schools currently use a system called ‘Wonde’ – which is working well and has been positively received by families across the Borough.  As a result, the Council asked the Government if schools could remain with this local system during the summer holidays.  Staying with the local system would not have made any difference to the Government in terms of costs.  Yesterday (with less than two weeks left before the end of term), the Department for Education confirmed that schools could continue to use Wonde but that any school which did so might not be fully reimbursed for the cost of school meals vouchers.  By comparison, schools using Edenred would be guaranteed to be fully reimbursed.

As a result, Knowsley schools will need to transition onto the national Edenred system before this Friday (10 July 2020) – the deadline for summer holiday vouchers to be ordered through Edenred.  The process itself will pile even more administrative pressure on schools already dealing with the significant challenge of re-opening safely to more pupils in the face of COVID-19.

Councillor Margaret Harvey – Knowsley Council’s Children’s Services Cabinet Member said:

“This feels like yet another blow for our schools who seem to bear the brunt of Government indecision and criticism time and time again.  Our school community has been incredible during the pandemic.  Every school here has remained open throughout lockdown and school teams and Council officers have been working around the clock to ensure that support is available to the children and young people who need it.

 

“We introduced our own voucher system when the national scheme was still only being talked about.  To now force schools into a position where they have to switch at late notice – and switch from a scheme which is working well, just seems to be yet another unfair treatment of local schools.

 

“We welcomed the Government U-turn on free school meals during the summer holidays but clearly the devil is in the detail and it’s not quite as straightforward as it would seem.”

Since the Government announced that it would be funding free school meals during the holidays, Knowsley Council has sought clarification from the Department for Education as to whether costs would still be fully covered if an alternative voucher schemes was in use.

In an email on 6 July 2020, the Department for Education confirmed that only schools using Edenred (the national scheme) would be guaranteed to be fully reimbursed.  Schools using alternative schemes would not receive any such guarantee and would be forced to use any in-year budget surplus first.  For example, a school which may have made savings to pay for an essential maintenance project or one which planned to use any financial surplus to make changes to allow for safer social distancing in school would potentially be penalised and expected by the Government to use those funds to cover the costs of free school meals.  Schools in exactly the same position would be allowed to retain such funds if they used the Government’s preferred Edenred scheme.

Councillor Harvey added:-

“We have made clear that we do not think this is a fair or equitable approach, but the Department for Education is unmoved on this point.  Therefore the Council has today informed schools of this latest update and the Leader of the Council has written personally to all parents who will be impacted by this decision.”