Free School Meals: Food Parcels

Debate between Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Baroness Berridge
Thursday 14th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. One key reason why the Government gave schools the choice was that they were aware of the operation of their own school catering staff—but also, certain suppliers had already purchased food and they had already paid for it so, obviously, moving to a voucher system immediately could have resulted in food waste. Giving the flexibility to schools in terms of local vouchers enables them to use local suppliers and to support their local economy.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Prime Minister has said that Marcus Rashford is doing a better job at holding the Government to account than the Official Opposition. Does that mean that the Prime Minister is now prepared to accept Mr Rashford’s advice that a major review of free school meals and, indeed, child poverty, might be undertaken by them as a result of mistakes recently made? While on my feet, I point out that the Government add insult to injury by handing out these disgraceful bags, which would have been an insult to those receiving them. Whenever policies are directed towards those trapped in poverty, they should never forget the dignity of those receiving them and to treat them with respect.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the work of Marcus Rashford, which was recognised in the latest honours that he was given. In relation to the flexibility that we have given to schools here, it is important to remember that schools know their children best; they know whether food parcels are best. Obviously, receipt of a food parcel can be vital if the parent at home at the moment is extremely clinically vulnerable, so a voucher perhaps would not be best. Schools generally do not want to deal in cash. Yet we have also seen the use of food parcels that are not necessarily synonymous with a lack of dignity in terms of the clinically vulnerable people in the first stage of the pandemic—and also businesses have sprung up during the pandemic using food that was potentially to supply restaurants and delivering it door to door. So although there needs to be sensitivity in each situation, it is not synonymous with a lack of dignity to offer actual food to people.

Exams and Accountability in 2021

Debate between Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Baroness Berridge
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, for those participating this year, the generosity of grades will be similar, although not identical, to the generosity of grades in 2020. That is important because it recognises the exceptional circumstances of those two cohorts of pupils and enables the higher education institutions, which will use last year’s assessment to award places, to be in a similar situation. What the position will be going forward in relation to the cohort is, I am sure, in Ofsted’s in-tray to be dealt with later, but I anticipate that there will be consultation, as there has been in relation to these matters. If my noble and learned friend has anything specific that he wants to raise, I ask him please to communicate it to me.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I declare an interest that may prove conflictual. I am the chair of the board of directors of the Central Foundation Schools of London, with one school in Islington and another in Tower Hamlets. Both are pretty densely populated, with considerable levels of poverty and a very high number of free school meals.

I have looked at the Statement, and a lot of thinking has gone into it, but my first question is: do we really have to wait until the end of January for the package of measures referred to? The head teachers whom I spoke to just this morning are desperate to have something before Christmas because the end of January is virtually half term, half way through the school year. There is pressure on schools such as ours and many others to get their teaching programmes accomplished in the short time between then and the examination period, and that really will be at the expense of those in a more parlous situation domestically and economically.

Perhaps I may ask my second question directly from an email that I received from some students who have missed schooling because of the virus. They ask, “How do we ensure fairness for a student whose A-level biology teacher has been out of school for up to 20 days, Teamsing from home, with another A-level biology student whose teacher has been present all term?” The Minister mentioned the disparity of coverage that we are attempting to reach with the measures now under scrutiny, but this affects not just the independent schools, with playing fields and small classes. When numbers are going into a classroom and it is a number who come from a class of 12, with playing fields and constant teaching, the number does not make a difference: they will do better than the pupils whom I know and speak for in this intervention. What can the noble Baroness help us with on that question? Wales has decided not to have exams, and that is probably the fairest way.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his involvement in schools. We depend on thousands and thousands of volunteers in our schools for governance in the school system. In terms of the aids that can be taken into exam rooms for some topic areas, the exam boards are now working at pace to make sure that those are broadly equal across subjects, so that there are no assertions that one subject is easier than another. That work is taking place and, bearing in mind the issue that the noble Lord talks about, they will be completing it as soon as they can. However, there is also the three-week delay in the examination system, which was announced a few months ago. All exams, barring the English and Maths papers, are taking place three weeks later, as I outlined.

With regard to the email, these measures are being taken precisely because there are so many different circumstances, even within one school, as I outlined. Some students might have thrived on the remote teaching facility but others will have struggled with it. It is not possible to take into account every single variant and response to the situation, but, after careful consideration, thorough consultation with the sector was felt to be the most appropriate way to help the most disadvantaged students. We remain convinced that exams are the fairest way for pupils to display their performance. In a way, those students will be more disadvantaged than last year’s exam cohort because of how much their teaching has been disrupted this year. However, exams, rather than teacher-assessed grades, are the fairest way to judge pupils’ achievements.

Free School Meals

Debate between Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Baroness Berridge
Tuesday 27th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords, whether politically aligned or not, will agree that we want to help those children who are in need and that working together is the way to find a solution. The suggestions and recommendations put forward by the new child poverty task force convened by Marcus Rashford, whose activities we commend, will be considered as part of the forthcoming spending review.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I was in receipt of free meals throughout my entire school career. My mother was a single woman and her only income was the contributions of the national assistance. We lived in one room. I remember very clearly—I can still taste and smell it—the mounting panic ahead of school holidays, because the income we had could not stretch to feeding two boys and a mother in that day. Marcus Rashford and I have this, and probably only this, in common: we remember, not in our heads but in our whole bodies. An old Etonian, of course, cannot be expected to have had the same experience. Some local councils will draw money in the way that the Government are suggesting, from allocations they have received. Other local authorities will not. Some communities will rise to the challenge. Other communities will not. Some children will get through. Most will not. Will the Minister give us some reassurance—not hide behind global figures—and understand that postcode lottery is not a formula that is destined to help the well-being of our children?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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Many noble Lords of all parties and none can recall circumstances in which their own needs, whether that be housing or food, were not met through the circumstances of their family. There are indeed—it is not a postcode lottery—1.4 million children in England who are entitled to free school meals, saving their families over £400 a year. Additionally, particularly through the soft drinks levy, the Government have been funding breakfast clubs in nearly 2,500 schools to provide children with healthy food.

National Curriculum

Debate between Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Baroness Berridge
Wednesday 21st October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that of course the history and English curricula should reflect the diversity of the population, with teachers being given flexibility in relation to how they teach the curriculum. Obviously, they should take into account the needs of all their pupils. In relation to AQA, for instance, the history curriculum currently includes an option on migration, empires and the people, so there is flexibility for teachers to include texts and periods in modules of history at their discretion.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, was offering something far more radical than the reply we have just received. However, this whole question is like peeling an onion. What plans do the Government have to ensure that those who deliver the national curriculum accurately reflect the diverse population of the land? Secondly, what plans do the Government have to ensure that the training of teachers—taking the noble Lord’s suggestions into the discussion, perhaps—equips them to deliver a properly balanced national curriculum of the kind described by the noble Lord?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, the requirement is for all schools to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, and that is what Ofsted inspects against. In order to qualify as a teacher, the person must have satisfied the teaching standard, and the minimum requirement is, obviously, that they understand the needs of the children who they are teaching. However, the noble Lord is correct that the teaching population should reflect the population, and we are pleased that BAME staff increased from 7% to 10% within the teaching staff between 2010 and 2019, but we recognise there is further to go, as, currently, 26% of our students are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.