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Final report published on the impact of Universal Infant Free School Meals policy

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The full report of our study on the impact of Universal Infants Free School Meals policy is published today, alongside a shorter briefing note outlining the main findings. The report was launched at a policy event hosted by the study’s main funders, the Nuffield Foundation.

The main findings of the study are in this briefing note.

Take-up of school meals

• Take-up of school meals by not FSM-registered pupils rose from a consistent 30-35% in the eight years preceding the policy to approximately 85% in the UIFSM period (a 50 percentage point increase), and for FSM-registered pupils (for whom there was no change in the financial incentive to take a school lunch) from about 84% to 87%.

• Providing UIFSM to infant pupils (in Reception,Year1 and Year 2) has reduced take-up of means-tested free school meals among FSM-registered juniors (in Years 3-6) in the same primary schools relative to FSM-registered juniors in schools with no infants.

• UIFSM has resulted in some parents entitled to register their child for (means-tested) FSM and pupil premium not doing so: registration rates for infant pupils are about 1.2 percentage points lower than should be expected.

Household food expenditure

• Having a child become entitled to UIFSM results in as aving on food expenditure among not-FSM-registered households, of approximately £20 per month in total for a household with two adults and two children. This suggests the policy has to some extent helped families with the costs of living.

Children’s bodyweight

• Making high quality school meals free on a universal basis reduces children’s bodyweight throughout the first year of school, reducing the proportion obese (by 0.7 percentage points from a base of just under 10%) and bringing more children into the healthy range (by 1.1 percentage points from a base of 76%).

• Benefits accrue to children in schools with a wide range of student intakes (measured as the proportion of students registered for FSM), apart from in the schools with the most and least affluent student body.

Absences from school

• UIFSM improved absence rates for FSM-registered infants. The effect size is equivalent to missing 1.2 fewer whole days at school over the academic year in total. About 60% of this effect is accounted for by reduced absences for illness or medical appointments. Changes in absence rates for infants not registered for means-tested FSM are negligible, suggesting that the policy has reduced inequalities in absences between children from lower and higher income backgrounds. absence rates for FSM-registered infants. The effect size is equivalent to missing 1.2 fewer whole days at school over the academic year in total. About 60% of

Attainment

• At age 5, the performance of the always-eligible FSM- registered group appears to have improved since UIFSM by more than their newly eligible not-FSM-registered peers, closing the gap between these groups by around 4%. The opposite is true at age 7, with the gap widening by between 5 and 10% since UIFSM was introduced, equivalent to the not-FSM-registered making two weeks’ more progress. Given that we find beneficial effects on absences and take-up of school meals for the always-eligible ‘control group’, we do not interpret these effects on attainment as causal effects of the UIFSM policy.

• Among those entitled to UIFSM, children who actually take up the available free school lunch have stronger educational performance at both age 5 and age 7.

Read the full report here.