FOUR ex-education secretaries have joined Marcus Rashford’s fight to get free school meals over the summer and internet for all.
Ed Balls, David Blunkett, Estelle Morris and Alan Johnson have all signed a letter warning children without adequate internet access could “never catch up”.
Former PM Tony Blair also signed the letter, started by Rashford, the Manchester United and England hero, which said there are at least 700,000 disadvantaged children who don’t have access to computers or internet.
They called on the Government to provide free school meals throughout the summer holidays to stop 1.3million kids from going hungry.
Free meal support was extended to Easter break and half term to help those kids struggling the most by giving them £15 vouchers.
The letter said: “Access to the internet and technology has been vital during the lockdown.
“It has enabled many households to remain in contact with friends and family, to take part in online exercise classes, and to continue learning and studying despite the closure of schools.
“But this lifeline has not been available for all, with schools across the country reporting struggling families who do not have internet access at home.”
Some children have been allowed to return to school – with primary schools reopening for small groups of pupils in reception, year one and year six, and secondary schools opening today for children in year 10 and year 12.
But Britain’s most deprived children are at risk of falling years behind their peers as school closures made pre-existing inequalities even worse.
According to figures by the Sutton Trust, cited by the letter, in the most deprived schools 15 per cent of teachers said more than 1 third of their students don’t have adequate access to computers or internet.
Education ‘ice age’
Chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon told The Daily Telegraph there could be an educational “ice age” for deprived kids who missed out on the full scope of virtual learning.
Rashford wrote to the Government pleading for extra help for hungry children.
He wrote: “The Government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.
“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday and guarantee the extension.
“This is England in 2020, and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance.
“Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority.”
Rashford previously revealed how his family relied on breakfast clubs and free school meals as a child, and does not want other children to miss out.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said free school meals would not be given out during the holidays.
They said: “As schools open more widely, and their kitchesn reopen, we expect schools to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to school.
“Free school meals are ordinarily term-time only, and the national voucher scheme will not run during the summer holidays.
“However, as announced this week by the Prime Minister, the local authority welfare assistance scheme will provide help to those who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to the impacts of COVID-19.”