By Hannah Richardson
Education and social affairs reporter
Published39 minutes ago
The government has defended its scheme to offer free food to struggling families in England over half term, after criticism from teachers' unions.
Food for children eligible for free meals will be provided by councils under the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.
But the National Education Union wants schools to continue providing food and warned of "chaos" in changing schemes for the week of half term.
The row comes after Boris Johnson condemned meagre food parcels.
The Department for Education (DFE) published guidelines on free meals, after an outcry over pictures of food packages to replace free school meals when schools are closed in the lockdown.
Ministers criticised the quality of what was being sent out by some school food firms.
image copyrightPA Mediaimage captionMarcus Rashford has spear-headed a campaign for holiday food
The DFE insists that even though schools will not provide food parcels or vouchers during half term, children will still be adequately supplied through the £170m Covid Winter Grant fund set up in early December.
This aims to support those most in need across England with the cost of food, energy, water bills and other essentials.
Councils are required to work out their own "local eligibility framework and approach", using benefits data and their local knowledge to decide how to use the fund to support vulnerable families.
Moving to this scheme for a replacement for school meals during half term has drawn criticism from head teachers and teachers.
The DFE guidance on free meals reiterates schools' responsibilities in term time, but goes on to say: "Schools do not need to provide lunch parcels or vouchers during the February half term.
"There is wider government support in place to support families and children outside of term-time through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme."
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned that switching schemes meant "yet more disruption to free schools meals could lie ahead in half term".
He said that rather than allowing schools to carry on providing food it would cause an "unnecessary logistical nightmare".
"This week, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson made public statements about how appalled they were by the quality of food parcels shared on Twitter," said Mr Courtney.
But he said ministers should now "hang their heads in shame" for threatening more "chaos and confusion" over providing food.
"These are battles which should not have to be repeatedly fought," said Mr Courtney.
'Badly thought out'
National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman accused the the government of "badly thought out and last-minute schemes to help with holiday hunger" which he said were "leaving families and children anxious".
"The government must urgently clarify for families how they will be helped during the upcoming half term holiday so they can be assured that they will not go hungry," said Mr Whiteman.
Labour's Tulip Siddiq, shadow minister for children and early years, said: "Time and time again this government has had to be shamed into providing food for hungry children over school holidays."
Food charities and anti-poverty campaigners, including footballer Marcus Rashford, have repeatedly clashed with the government over the issue of food for poor pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly over school holidays.
The footballer forced the government to back down in the summer over its plans not to offer free meals in the holidays to poor pupils, whose families were likely to be suffering with reduced incomes.