Extending the ‘School Meals Scheme’

External practice

Duration

Commenced in March 2020* (INTO believe that the Covid-19 crisis presents an opportunity to raise the issue of school meals provision for vulnerable children throughout periods of school closure (e.g. summer holidays. The needs of these children and famili

Partnership

INTO worked in conjunction with the Children’s Rights Alliance to highlight this issue as a matter of urgency.

Reason it was developed

Every school day, more than a quarter of a million children nationwide benefit from the School Meals programme, providing healthy food that they otherwise would not have access to. Defined as the inability to have an adequate, nutritious diet due to issues of affordability or access, food poverty is an issue that has been brought into a sharper focus in recent months considering the Covid-19 situation. Schools which are part of the Department of Education and Skills’ initiative for disadvantaged schools, (‘Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools’ [DEIS]) are prioritised for the School Meals Programme. However, the issue of food poverty is not limited to pupils and families in DEIS schools, whilst not every pupil of these school depends on school meals. Each child’s needs, and those of their family, vary from pupil to pupil, even within the same classroom. The sudden closure of schools on March 12th resulted in provision of school meals ceasing for a period, in line with restrictions announced by the Government. Despite this interruption to the programme, teachers in various schools sustained provision of food in innovative ways, to meet the basic needs of pupils and their families.

Activities

Following the restrictions announced by the Government on last March, school buildings were not accessible by teachers and home visits were not permitted. As a result, children normally in receipt of food via the ‘School Meals Programme’ were deprived of these daily nutritious meals. INTO raised concerns with the Department of Education and requested that an extension to the programme be facilitated. The Department of Education confirmed that either An Post or local community/voluntary groups, via a Community Champion in each county, would assist schools with the delivery of food to vulnerable pupils under the scheme. A Community Champion was assigned to each county and their role was to direct queries and requests for assistance to local community and voluntary groups. INTO advised school principals and home school community liaison teachers, whose boards of management decided on how to operate the scheme under Covid-19 restrictions, to liaise with school completion services to ensure that pupils from all families who wish to avail of the school meals scheme during the weeks of school closure received the food once a week.

Results

The DES decision to continue provision of School Meals over Easter was based on an identified need of food support amongst vulnerable families and INTO members are alarmed that there is no recognition of the need to provision for the duration of the summer break. Families who rely heavily of the School Meals Scheme are in need of food support 52 weeks per year, and INTO believe that the relevant government Departments should work towards supports being put in place to address this not just for the duration of the Covid-19 virus, but for future school years during holiday periods.

Funding

Department of Education And Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection

Links

Ireland
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