Hotline set up after food parcel scandal receives seven complaints – minister

Education minister Vicky Ford said the Government expects ‘high-quality lunch parcels for our children’.

A child collects packed food parcels
A child collects packed food parcels

A Department for Education hotline set up after photos emerged on social media of “unacceptable” food parcels for children has received just seven complaints, a minister said.

Education minister Vicky Ford said the Government expects “high-quality lunch parcels for our children”, as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons 15,000 food vouchers have been despatched on Monday to children who receive free school meals.

It comes as Labour said parents and pupils believe Mr Williamson “just isn’t up to the job”.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson at his desk
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

During education questions, Conservative MP Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) said: “I’m sure, like me, my right honourable friend has received a lot of ill-informed and abusive emails and posts on social media about the school lunches.

“I’m pleased that the department has established a hotline for complaints about the lunch parcels. I’m absolutely certain that most schools are providing good quality parcels for children, so please can my right honourable friend confirm how many complaints about food parcels the hotline that has been established has received?”

Responding for the Government, Ms Ford said: “DfE helplines have been giving support to schools and others on a wide range of matters.

“On Wednesday morning, after seeing some of those photos of unacceptable parcels, we announced that parents could call the DfE if they had a problem with a lunch parcel, but they should try to resolve it with the schools first.

“There are around 1.4 million children on free school meals. By the end of last week, we had received a total of seven calls in relation to unacceptable lunch parcels. Each has been fully investigated, we expect high-quality lunch parcels for our children.”

Earlier, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green told the Commons: “He (Mr Williamson) was late in planning the voucher scheme, he was late getting laptops to students, late consulting on replacing exams and late announcing that students would not return to school in January.

A-Level results
Kate Green (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“After delay after delay, has he finally realised what parents, pupils and staff have known for months – he just isn’t up to the job?”

Mr Williamson responded: “Time and time and time again we have recognised where there are real challenges in terms of dealing with the global pandemic, that is why we have taken the action that we have.

“Those food parcels didn’t meet the expectations or the guidance that we have set out and they are not acceptable, and we have made that clear.

“We are very keen to ensure that schools have the choice and the freedom to choose what is best for children within their school.

“That is why we have given schools… the opportunity to either do food parcels, they are given the opportunity to do vouchers that are locally procured, or the national voucher scheme, and over 15,000 of those vouchers have already been despatched today.”

Labour’s shadow education minister Wes Streeting said the number of laptops provided by the Government to pupils without access to devices “falls well short”.

He said: “The fact is that up to 1.8 million children in this country did not have access to a device at home and more than 800,000 did not have access to the internet needed.”

Accusing Mr Streeting of wanting to “play politics”, Mr Williamson said his department “want to deliver the best for every single child – wherever they live, whatever background they come from”.

Labour’s shadow education minister Toby Perkins described arrangements for vocational assessments as the “Btec exam fiasco”.

He said: “I think the Government’s farcical approach to those exams has left college leaders to show leadership and concern for pupil and teacher safety in the absence of any from the Government. Now we’ve got students and colleges on different tracks to the same exams – it’s all so unnecessary.”

Responding, education minister Gillian Keegan said: “Learners up and down the country have faced unprecedented challenges this year and for those who have worked so hard over recent months preparing for their January exams, and particularly for those who require a practical licence to practise, it’s right that we allow them the opportunity to progress because there are no alternative arrangements that are capable of being put in place for these type of exams.”

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