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

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


• 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.


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