This week, the Children’s Minister, Vicky Ford, came to visit The Y Project to find out how the £220 million Government funded Holiday and Activity Food Programme (‘HAF’) is helping children in Hastings and Rye. The programme is being coordinated by East Sussex County Council with the help of a number of delivery partners, including Hastings Opportunity Area, Active Hastings, ARK Academies, Education Futures Trust, Little Gate Farm, Skiltek and Sussex Wildlife Trust, to name but a few. The aim is to provide free holiday provision, including healthy food and food preparation and enriching activities to help children stay engaged, entertained, active and healthy during the school holiday.
I was impressed with the range of activities on offer at The Y Project from badminton to arts and craft and making a healthy lunch. HAF in East Sussex, as with every local authority in England, is also making sure that there are HAF projects accessible for children with special educational needs and disabilities. It was great to speak to the children and volunteers - many of whom are young adults doing a great job in providing fun and mentoring to younger children. I spoke to one parent who made it clear to me how important HAF has been this summer to her family – a life saver for her before her children go back to school. She told me that her children were really enjoying the activities and it also enabled her to spend time with her children doing activities that she would not otherwise have had.
Piloted by the Government between 2018 and 2020 and subsequently expanded across England, the HAF Programme is one part of this Government’s comprehensive offer to help families during the holidays, alongside the £429 million Covid Local Support Grant and Healthy Start vouchers to help parents buy fresh, healthy food and pay their bills.
Considering the success of the HAF programme, not just locally, but across England, I will certainly be lobbying the Government for this to be continued in future school holidays – it provides children and their parents with so much more than free school meals vouchers.Importantly, because the scheme is funded through the Department for Education, the food complies with school food standards, which means children are having healthy, nutritious meals. The provision of childcare support to parents means they can work, or seek work, and for the children specifically, HAF provides additional activities to mitigate learning loss, help children’s wellbeing and develop their social skills.
I know from my inbox that some parents are anxious about their children returning to school in September due to the risk posed by the spread of Covid. I was interested to read that an air purifier and ultra violet light pilotscheme to disinfect air is due to start in West Yorkshire in September, which involves £1.75m Government-funded research involving 30 primary schools. Initial results should be available by the end of this year and if successful, the technology could be rolled out across the country in 2022. If this does work, it would reduce transmission of Covid (and colds and flu) as well as improve air quality for children with asthma or hay fever, which is encouraging.
In an attempt to mitigate the spread of Covid, the Department of Education has confirmed that secondary schools and colleges will need to conduct on-site covid testing of their pupils before the school year can start, and that they can stagger the return of pupils over the first week to support this. Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed. Again, heads, teachers and school staff are working incredibly hard locally to ensure that our children have the best possible opportunities to learn.
Seeing how positive the HAF programme has been for many of our children, it really does enforce why attending school is so important for all our children and young people, not just in terms of learning, but for their well-being, sense of belonging and friendships. I would urge all of us, parents, carers and our local communities to support our schools and our children in any way they can as they return to school this September.