Skip to content

Assessing the impact of Government policy of universal free school meals for children in Key Stage 1


ISER has been awarded new funding from the Nuffield Foundation to assess the impact of the Government’s policy of universal free school meals for all Key Stage 1 children (ages 4-7) in primary and infant state schools.

The policy was introduced in September 2014 by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government with a view to improving the health and educational outcomes of the nation’s children, following a government-commissioned independent review of school meals and children’s eating habits in schools.

The research team, led by Dr Birgitta Rabe and Dr Angus Holford at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, will assess the impact of the policy on:

  • Children’s educational performance at age 5 (with supplementary analysis at age 7);
  • Children’s personal, social and emotional development at age 5;
  • Children’s Body Mass Index and rates of children being underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese throughout reception year in school (age 4-5);
  • Children’s school absences due to illness and medical appointments in infant school, between ages 4 and 7;
  • Children’s take-up of school lunches, both among newly eligible children and those who were already eligible for free school meals.

Dr Birgitta Rabe, Principal Investigator of the study said:

“The policy aims to improve children’s educational attainment, social skills and behaviour, to ensure children have access to a healthy meal each day and develop long-term healthy eating habits and to help families with the cost of living, removing disincentives to work. At a running cost of around £400 per pupil per year, this policy is a sizeable investment into children, and it is important to know whether it has delivered its aims.”

Image credit: Anthony Cullen