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Monday, Oct 19, 2020

Head teacher buys food for vulnerable families

A head teacher says he has spent £2,000 of his own money to buy food for vulnerable families who are waiting to receive free school meal vouchers.

Lloyd Mason-Edwards from Peel Park Primary School in Bradford, said only about half the families eligible at his school had received vouchers.

He said the system was a "shambles" and was failing those in need.

Edenred, which runs the voucher scheme, said it was aware of problems and that many had successfully claimed vouchers.

The government has said it will provide extra funding to schools to cover such "unavoidable costs".

Staff at Peel Park school are making up parcels of food and toiletries and Mr Mason-Edwards delivers them to 10 of its most vulnerable families each week.

He said of the 650 pupils at his school, 150 qualified for free school meals and about 10 of those were really struggling.

"They [the government] are not providing for the most vulnerable members of our community," he said.

"The ones that don't speak English, or the ones that have been furloughed and are yet to receive money.

"We have some parents that started up a business five months ago and are not receiving any payments either."

The government scheme to give poor pupils in England vouchers worth £15 a week until schools reopen has experienced numerous problems.

Mr Mason-Edwards said the vouchers were provided by email so those without internet access were "slipping through the net".


Refunded the money

School staff are applying on behalf of those families without internet access, but many vouchers provided this way have not been accepted at supermarket checkouts as the barcodes were not working.

After hearing about this, Mr Mason-Edwards went to a supermarket and spent £2,000 buying gift vouchers to distribute to families, so they could buy their own food.

He has since been refunded the money by the school, and hopes the school will be able to claim the cost through the Department for Education's recovery scheme.

The school said food used in the parcels comes from community donations, local businesses and some from Tesco on Canal Road in Bradford, which Mr Mason-Edwards said had been "brilliant".

The Department for Education said schools that could not make the Edenred system work would be reimbursed for creating alternative schemes.

It previously told BBC News: "We are providing additional funding to schools to cover unavoidable costs incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak that cannot be met from their existing resources - including free school meal costs which are not covered by the national voucher system."

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