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Some London children will go hungry during the holidays if free school meals are not extended, headteachers warned today.

Families in parts of the capital will not be able to feed their children if a two-week “circuit break” half-term is brought in, and during the Christmas break, they said.

It comes after the Government rejected footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meal vouchers to be given to children during all school holidays in England.

More than 140,000 people signed the Manchester United player’s petition urging ministers to go further in tackling child hunger within hours of it being launched.

But the Government said it is “not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during school holidays”.

Jared Brading, executive head of St Mary’s Catholic School in Battersea, said his school has been providing children with food in the holidays for the past few years, paid for by donations and fundraising, because the need is so great.

He said: “We think Marcus Rashford’s campaign is a brilliant one. It would take all the pressure off schools.

“For all the money that is being spent on Covid at the moment, a small fraction to support families with food over half term and Christmas would go an enormous way.” Sahreen Siddiqui, head of Stanhope Primary school in Ealing, where 28 per cent of children qualify for free school meals, said: “If Marcus Rashford’s campaign does not succeed, I would worry about the health of London children.

“There has been a massive rise in the use of food banks and there are families who really need support at the moment. It’s worrying to think if we did have a two-week circuit break there would be families who would not be able to feed their children, or who would have to rely on community spirit.

“There would absolutely be parents who couldn’t feed their children during that extra week. This is London and it has been a big problem for a long time.”

Mrs Siddiqui said any new scheme to provide holiday food must be “straightforward” because the most vulnerable families have found it difficult to access funds in the past.

Stephanie Slater, founder of campaign group School Food Matters, said: “It’s completely tragic that children are struggling to get enough to eat.

“The Government’s response to Marcus Rashford’s campaign was that we don’t normally feed children during the school holidays. But to talk about normality in this context is absurd, this is not a normal situation.”

The Government provided food vouchers to families whose children qualify for free school meals during the coronavirus lockdown. It had insisted it would not continue during the summer holidays, but after Rashford’s campaign in the summer it performed a U-turn.