Headteachers have been left angry by a letter from ministers reminding them to provide pupils with nutritious food in school just days after MPs rejected a campaign to extend free meals to children during the holidays.
A letter – from children's minister Vicky Ford and junior health minister Jo Churchill – was sent to school leaders on Friday morning to encourage them to offer a healthy and nutritious hot meal to their pupils during term-time.
Heads received the letter two days after a Labour motion to offer free school meals to poorer children during holidays – which was prompted by a campaign by Marcus Rashford – was defeated by 322 votes to 261.
School leaders on social media said the letter was "unbelievable", adding that they were "fuming" and were "speechless".
Headteacher Andy Byers, who shared the correspondence on Twitter, told the PA news agency that there was anger and "plenty of incredulity" at the timing of the letter from the Department for Education.
It came as a growing number of local authorities – including Liverpool City Council – and pubs, cafes and restaurants announced they would provide meals for local children during the October half-term.
Mr Byers, head of Framwellgate School Durham, tweeted: "Without a hint of irony, Headteachers have received a letter today from the children's minister reminding us about food standards and our responsibilities to provide students with nutritious food and hot meals. Honestly!"
The letter on school food provision, shared with PA, said: "The vast majority of children are in school and we understand schools may be finding it hard at this time to provide children with their usual hot meal at lunchtime especially given the need to minimise contact between bubbles.
"Furthermore, higher numbers of parents may also be sending their children in with a packed lunch.
"Schools have flexibility within the School Food Standards around which products/foods they serve across the school week. There is no legal requirement that meals should be hot, however we do encourage this and ask all schools to routinely be offering a varied hot meal option to pupils.
"It is much harder to comply with the School Food Standards through the provision of cold food alone. I would urge you all to work closely with your caterers to make every effort to ensure children are receiving a healthy and nutritious hot meal at school."
Pictures of the week: October 18 - 24
Pictures of the week: October 18 - 24
A lantern seen at an installation in London's Chinatown ahead of the global debut of the new computer-animated musical adventure film Netflix film 'Over The Moon' (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A Sotheby's employee displays a Mughal gem set ivory horse head-hilted dagger, top and an Ottoman steel bladed ivory hilted dagger during a photo call ahead of the auction house's Islamic World, Legendary Timepieces and Middle Eastern Art sales, in London, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
People queue outside a bar in central Manchester, England, Thursday Oct. 22, 2020, as strict coronavirus restrictions on England's second-largest urban area, Greater Manchester, will start at midnight. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Boris Becker leaves Southwark Crown Court in London, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. German tennis star Boris Becker is charged with 19 offences of failing to disclose money and property as part of bankruptcy proceedings. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Cars at the border crossing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as gardai conduct checks asking people the reason for their journey. (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)
A member of the back stage staff wears PPE as she helps a ballerina from Northern Ballet prepares in a dressing room at Leeds Playhouse, ahead of Northern Ballet's first live performances in more than seven months. (Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Busker Tony Black turns his "smiley" face mask upside down to reflect the current mood as he entertains shoppers on October 22, 2020 in Sheffield, England. The county of South Yorkshire, which includes the city of Sheffield will move to Tier 3 'Very High' Covid-19 alert on Saturday. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A woman with an umbrella walking past street art in Camden, London. Weather warnings have been issued as Storm Barbara is expected to bring gale force winds and heavy showers to southern parts of the UK.
A lone punt on the River Cam in Cambridge. Weather warnings have been issued as Storm Barbara is expected to bring gale force winds and heavy showers to southern parts of the UK.
Lamp installations in London's UK's Chinatown, to celebrate the new Netflix film Over The Moon, released this Friday. Picture date: Wednesday October 21, 2020. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: A man walks past a Covid-19 testing site on October 22, 2020 in Sheffield, England. The county of South Yorkshire, which includes the city of Sheffield will move to Tier 3 'Very High' Covid-19 alert on Saturday. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate the Duchess of Cambridge meet pharmacist Joyce Duah as they visit St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, to mark the launch of the nationwide 'Hold Still' community photography project, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Tuesday met a small number of staff from the hospital, including pharmacist and photographer Joyce Duah and the two pharmacy technician colleagues she photographed writing on their PPE as they put it on, in a photograph that was selected to be in the set of 100 images taken during the coronavirus lockdown. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
Ben Cullen Williams art installation, A=V 2020 in London's Covent Garden, commissioned by Covent Garden and executed by MTArt.
Described as Otherworldly, celestial, toxic. The installation explores our relationship to the unknown and interstellar. A landing or possible escape. A portal into another world, reality altered. (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
People walk past the empty Southern Pavilion cafe on Worthing Pier, West Sussex, on another sunny day as businesses in the UK continue to suffer from the Coronavirus pandemic.
LINCOLN, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Plymouth Argyle's Michael Cooper during the Sky Bet League One match between Lincoln City and Plymouth Argyle at LNER Stadium on October 20, 2020 in Lincoln, England. (Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images)
Hospitality workers beat their pans to protest in Parliament Square in London, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. Hospitality workers are demonstrating outside Parliament against tougher coronavirus restrictions and the amount of financial support given by the government to the industry.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A Red Panda lays on branch at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A man wearing a face mask, required on public transport, rides a bus across Westminster Bridge in London, England, on October 19, 2020. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A view of the HS2 (High Speed 2) Rebellion encampment in Euston Square, London as they protest against the destruction of woodland due to the construction of the high speed rail link (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
RETRANSMITTING CORRECTING THE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PROJECT FUNDING. Conservator Nigel Larkin begins work to dismantle a 40ft juvenile North Atlantic whale skeleton, the largest artefact within the Hull Maritime Museum's collection. (Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 19, 2020: Hundreds of hospitality workers take part in a demonstration in Parliament Square against the lack of scientific evidence behind the new coronavirus restrictions imposed by the government, such as the mandatory 10pm curfew, and a lack of sector-specific financial support for businesses in tier 2 areas, on 19 October, 2020 in London, England. Hospitality, which is the UKs third biggest industry and accounts for 10% of the nations employment, has been heavilly impacted by the restrictions with 100,000 jobs lost in the last three months.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Runners and riders circle at the start for The Follow Plumpton Racecourse On Instagram Novices' Hurdle at Plumpton Racecourse. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/PA Images via Getty Images)
Covid-19 survivor Geoffrey McKillop. (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)
Staff from Chopstix Noodle Bar hand out food parcels from a WWII tracked vehicle to self-isolating students from Manchester Metropolitan University at Cambridge Halls, part of the All Saints students living accommodation blocks, in Manchester. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man cycles past anti-lockdown graffiti in Manchester, England, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 as the row over Greater Manchester region's coronavirus status continues. Britain’s government says discussions about implementing stricter restrictions in Greater Manchester must be completed Monday because the public health threat caused by rising COVID-19 infections is serious and getting worse. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)
A digital display above a dual carriageway calls on residents to follow coronavirus guidlines in Manchester, northwest England as the country battles a surge in coronavirus cases on October 19, 2020 (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Tottenham's Gareth Bale during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. (Neill Hall/Pool via AP)
LONGFIELD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18: (L-R) Lee Jackson of Kawasaki - Rapid Fulfillment team and Andrew Irwin of Honda Racing ride during the penultimate round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch on October 18, 2020 in Longfield, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18: Demonstrators at the candlelight procession to remember victims of SARS and those assaulted by Nigeria Police gather at Trafalgar Square on October 18, 2020 in London, England. They echo the ongoing #EndSARS protest movement against Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad, whose officers have been accused of indiscriminate arrests, extortion, and extrajudicial killings. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari recently disbanded the force, replacing it with a new division named SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), but the makeover has not placated the protesters. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/Getty Images)
BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18: Becky Spencer of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Arsenal Women and Tottenham Hotspur Women at Meadow Park on October 18, 2020 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "Local authorities, schools and businesses in communities across the country are now stepping in where Parliament has not. This is not, however, sustainable long term and the funding needs to come from Government.
"Adding insult to injury the children's minister has sent out a letter to heads today reminding them of the importance of promoting healthy eating in schools. You couldn't make it up. Learn the lesson and reverse the decision is the only way Boris Johnson must now proceed."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "All schools have gone to extraordinary lengths to get children back into education this term, and the letter was first and foremost to thank school staff for their efforts in getting kitchens open and once again providing meals to pupils, including those eligible for benefits-related free meals.
"We recognise the pressures in schools during this pandemic and so we wanted to reassure them that we will not be introducing changes to the School Food Standards at this time but that we expect the current robust standards to still be followed and implemented."