New groundbreaking study into the impact of Universal Free School Meals schemes

The Nuffield Foundation has confirmed new funding to investigate the impact of Universal Free School Meal (UFSM) programmes run in several local authorities in England since 2004 on children’s educational attainment, absences and bodyweight.

ISER’s previous Nuffield-funded research showed that the Universal Infant Free School Meals policy (UIFSM) which from 2014 made a free lunch available to all infants in state-funded schools in England significantly reduces children’s bodyweights in Reception year and absences among infants. Evaluating the earlier and ongoing local authority schemes for Universal Free School Meals among primary school years will add to this evidence and allow us to

a) assess longer-term impacts of UFSM on children’s outcomes at age 11;

b) estimate the causal effect of providing UFSM on children’s attainment as well as bodyweight and absences;

c) assess the programme features (such as the number of years free meals are provided and the ages at which they are provided) that are linked to positive outcomes for students, and how these differ by student background.

This will be achieved by comparing the outcomes of children in local authorities implementing such schemes with the outcomes of similar children for whom these were never available.

This new analysis, led by Dr Angus Holford with Dr Birgitta Rabe, will help establish if UFSM policies are, or could be adapted to be, cost-effective in terms of educational gains, future health and productivity of those receiving it. We expect these results to feed into ongoing policy discussions around the retention, expansion and further development of the UIFSM policy, as well as into the development of any local authority-based UFSM initiative.

Read the full project details here

In the first project, our researchers assessed the impact of the UIFSM policy on Reception children’s body weights; infant children’s school absences due to illness and medical appointments; take-up of school lunches; registration for pupil premium; and educational performance.

Read the findings from the first research project here

Read the full details of our earlier project here


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