Around 140,000 children and young people across Scotland are being supported with the provision of a free school meal as part of efforts to support the most vulnerable children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Local authorities are providing the majority of meals through vouchers, direct payments or home deliveries, according to the latest monitoring data.
Meals are also provided at some education-early years hubs, around 400 of which are open across Scotland to ensure continuity of education and pastoral care for vulnerable young people including those with additional support needs, as well as children of key workers.
New guidance to support continuity of learning at the start of term 4, which for the vast majority of children and young people will be experienced at home, will be published in the coming days as Easter school break ends. The Parent Club Scotland website also continues to be updated with a range of advice and support through the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Scottish Government is working with a range of partners to support children and families and mitigate the impact of the outbreak and the necessary social distancing measures on education and other vital services to support health and wellbeing.
Funding has been provided for a range of local and national projects, including through the £350 million Communities support package announced last month to help those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes extra support for care-experienced young people, providing updated advice and IT support for families, and responding to a rising demand for counselling from children and young people.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:
“In the midst of this terrible pandemic, with the harm and potential harm to our loved-ones and communities, Ministers remain steadfast in our determination to support children and families, both for their health and wellbeing and to help everyone continue their learning, whether through the education hubs or with home learning.
“Free school meals are a key measure for families, children and young people who need some extra help and I am pleased that so many are receiving them. We have worked closely with local authority partners to ensure they are able to put in place provision that meets local needs and circumstances.
“As schools term 4 starts in the next few days, we will be publishing guidance from Education Scotland, both for teachers/practitioners and for families, to support continued learning. This will provide information about curriculum, teaching and learning at home, including digital learning, and include sources of further advice and support.
“I am grateful for the commitment of all those working in Scotland’s education system in their efforts to support families and learners during this difficult time. Parents and young people too must be commended for how they have responded to the disruption caused by COVID-19 and by the very necessary closure of schools.
“The Scottish Government will continue to review the available advice and guidance to ensure parents, carers and learners get the support they need, when they need it. That includes work with key partners to provide and adapt a range of support for those children and families facing particular disadvantages or additional vulnerabilities during this crisis.”
Cllr Stephen McCabe, COSLA Spokesperson for Children and Young People:
“In the face of the massive challenge posed to our communities by the coronavirus, Local Government has moved quickly to support those most in need.
“With the closure of schools and early learning and childcare settings councils have rapidly set up bespoke methods to ensure that eligible children continue to receive free school meals, whether that is through vouchers, direct payments, home deliveries or providing food through community hubs.
“Councils will continue to work at the front lines to make sure that the most vulnerable in Scotland’s communities are supported as we respond to COVID-19.”
An estimated 122,000 children and young people are eligible for free school meals because their families are in receipt of qualifying benefits. The Scottish Government provided local authority partners with £30 million of new investment to support families unable to access food as a result of COVID-19, with £15 million specifically for free school meals.
Information about free school meals can be found on the MyGov website.
In the coming days guidance prepared by the Scottish Government and Education Scotland, with advice and input from education partners, will provide an overview of the shared expectations at a national and local level of what partners will each do to support children and young people. The guidance will outline actions to ensure that learning continues for children and young people during term four.
As well as advice and support on the Parent Club Scotland and Parentzone Scotland websites, information for young people is also available on the Young Scot website.
Educational psychologists in education authorities and partner agencies have provided advice to staff as well as materials, that help address the mental health needs of Scotland’s young people during the crisis.
Detailed health advice can be found at NHS Inform.
Read further information and the latest guidance and updates on the response of government and other agencies on the Scottish Government’s coronavirus COVID-19 webpage.