Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:42 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich 8:42 pm, 18th January 2021

This is an incredibly important debate. We need to ensure that remote learning is high class for all pupils, regardless of the school they go to. I had the opportunity to raise in a question earlier the issue of live lessons and why they are so important for pupils with special educational needs, who may not have an education, health and care plan, which entitles pupils to still go to school. I spoke to a headteacher of a school that caters purely for dyslexic students this morning, and she explained to me how her school has all live lessons and how she thinks that is so important for pupils with dyslexia. I would like the Government to take that on board.

On free school meals—an issue with a lot of heat around it—I am proud of the support the Government have provided throughout the pandemic. I do not think there is an example of any Government in modern British political history that have been so ambitious in the support they have provided. I am talking about the £170 million winter grant scheme. I am talking about the more than £200 million committed to holiday activities and the food programme. Suffolk got £2 million from that £170 million fund, and less than half of that will be spent on guaranteeing that all eligible pupils got free school meals over Christmas and will get them over February. That leaves more than £1 million for other kinds of interventions to help all sorts of families—not only those with children eligible for free school meals but those who do not but are struggling as well. That is very much to be welcomed.

It has often been portrayed by the Labour party that that incredibly expensive and ambitious package of support was somehow cobbled together at the last minute. It absolutely was not. So much of what the Government have committed came directly from the national food strategy, which was commissioned in June 2019. Just this summer, I had the pleasure of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, visiting my constituency, where we were a pilot for the holiday activities and food programme. She spoke passionately about how it was her ambition for that to be extended across the country. This has been a Government priority for a long time, and I have absolutely no concerns about whether this Government have at their heart the desire to support and cater for children who are struggling the most at this time.

In terms of the quality of free school meals, I support the comments made by a number of Members that the images we saw were unacceptable, but the reality is that these food parcels come about as a result of lots of individual decisions made by different local councils. Some decide to have vouchers. Some decide to have food parcels. Some food parcels are high-quality and others, as we have seen, are completely not. That is a result of many decisions—some made by Labour councils, might I add? I think that virtually all of us do care about this issue, but I do not think that supporting this particular motion is the best way of progressing. I am focused on results and action, not virtue signalling.