DfE to fund summer meals for vulnerable college students – but at a lower rate than schools

The government has announced it will provide extra funding for disadvantaged college students to receive free meals over the summer – but they will be given 60p less per day than school pupils.

The Department for Education (DfE) this morning published details on how FE providers can continue to provide free meals over the 2020 summer holiday to students who are eligible under the existing 16 to 19 bursary scheme.

It comes a month after the government U-turned on its decision not to provide free lunch vouchers to school pupils during August, following a public campaign by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.

The guidance explains the funding rate for free meals in FE has been calculated at £73 per student, which works out at £2.41 for five meals each week – whereas school students will have £3.

Sixth Form College Association deputy chief executive James Kewin said that “if the department has evidence that college students require less food than school students we would be interested to see it”.

“If not, we would suggest that young people should not be disadvantaged based on where they choose to study”.

There is also a variance between how much students at different provider types will be given – as 16 to 19 schools and academies are able to access the same amount of funding as schools.

Kewin said schools and academies “knew on June 17 they could continue to make free meal payments to students over the summer holidays.

“It has taken almost a month to extend this to sixth form students studying in colleges, with the inevitable catch that they will be funded at a lower rate.”

After education secretary Gavin Williamson said in a speech yesterday “for decades, we have failed to give FE the investment it deserves”, Kewin responded that he ought to “address the range of inequalities that colleges face compared to other providers of 16 to 18 education.

“Free school meals is a classic example.”

This additional funding is being offered due to the “unprecedented nature of the coronavirus outbreak”.

It can only be used to buy meals for eligible students over the summer 2020 holiday period, and the guidance warns any additional funding which is not spent will be clawed back by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Providers which wish to claim this funding must sign and return their contract variations by July 31 to receive the additional funding in their August payment, the DfE said.

Funding will come through “in a later payment” if contracts are returned after this date.

The DfE has said it will also pay the first part of free meals allocations for the 2020/21 academic year to institutions in August, in line with the usual payment schedule.

The guidance also says providers “must continue to provide meals using their existing arrangements over the summer” for eligible students claiming for free meals during the summer term.

Providers must confirm arrangements and support with eligible students before the end of the term.

Last month, FE Week reported on how individual colleges were planning to fund free meals to their 16 to 19 eligible learners over the summer in the absence of additional funding from government.