WGPlus (Archive)

As usual, ‘one size does not fit all’

Hunger in the classroom is linked to lower attainment, poor behaviour, and worse health outcomes.  In the last few years, UK policymakers have tried to reduce the number of children with poor nutrition by expanding school food initiatives, including providing free school meals to all children in Reception through Year 2 in English schools.

The Labour Party has promised to extend this free meal entitlement to children in Years 3 to 6 (ages 7-11) in England in order to ‘benefit the educational attainment and health of all children’.

Universal free school meals can improve attainment in some circumstances.  A 2012 pilot study by IFS researchers and others found that Year 6 students in Newham and Durham, where all primary children were offered free school lunches, made around two months’ additional progress over a two-year period compared to similar children in other areas.  In this observation we argue that extending the policy nationwide would come at a significant cost and might not lead to similar gains.

Other policies, such as offering free breakfast clubs (as is the case in Wales and as trialled in England) might be a cheaper and more effective way to improve both education and health outcomes.
Researched Links:

IFS:  Free school meals for all primary pupils: Projections from a pilot

IEA:  Extending free school meals won’t help families most in need

One year of free school meals

New funding to boost schools facilities and healthy lifestyles

Social Mobility Commission:  Drop in poor children's progress at secondary school

JRF:  ‘Life chances postcode lottery’ - analysis shows parts of country where children fall behind by age 5

WAG:  Attainment gap for those on free school meals closes again

IPPR North: ‘Secondary school set back’ could cost the northern economy £29bn in lost productivity

Ofqual:  What causes variability in school-level GCSE results year-on-year?

IFS:  School spending focused more on poorest schools over past 20 years; even more radical reforms over next decade

"Shocking fall" in GCSE performance for pupils on free school meals in Reading

LGA:  2,500 academies yet to sign up to healthy school meal standards

IFS:  No magic bullet in London schools' success. Just years of steady improvements in quality

ScotGov:  Protecting free school meals and early learning & childcare

Pupils enjoying free school meals

New school meals standards must be mandatory, says LGA

DfE:  New data shows 1.3m more infants eating free school meals

LGA - Councils forced to divert money to pay for free school meals, new research shows

‘Food for thought’

EU Exit Week