Free school meals for all 'boost results'

School canteen Children eating school dinners consume better food, the report said

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Offering free school meals to everyone can help close the gap between rich and poor pupils, a report suggests.

A study looking at the effects of extending free meals to all in two pilot areas of England suggests primary pupils advance by two months on average as a result.

Advances were most pronounced in pupils from poorer homes.

Researchers put the attainment boost down to improvements in pupils' productivity.

The study looked at the impact of extending entitlement to free school meals in three English local authority areas over a two-year period.

'Better food'

In two areas, Durham and Newham, meals were offered universally to pupils.

In a third, Wolverhampton, entitlement was extended to cover pupils in primary and secondary schools to a greater number of but not all pupils.

There was little change in either take-up of school meals or attainment on this partial expansion pilot.

But in the universal pilot, most pupils areas took up the option of taking the free meals.

The report suggested the nutritional content of school lunches was better than packed lunches. Better food has been linked previously with better behaviour.

Children were more likely to eat hot food, including vegetables and carbohydrates. They were also more likely to drink water rather than fizzy drinks.

'Levelling effect'

Researchers then compared the school results of children on the universal pilot with similar children in other areas.

They found an average increase in attainment of about two months for those in primary school.

And the impact was more pronounced for children from less affluent families and amongst those with lower prior attainment.

The study said school staff noticed a "levelling effect" in the quality of lunches eaten by pupils from different backgrounds.

The report said the increase in attainment "must arise as a result of improvements in productivity whilst at school".

The study said the universal approach cost the equivalent of around £220 per primary school pupil over two years.

It added that the universal entitlement pilot appeared to deliver better value for money "than some educational interventions".

'Not viable'

Children's Food Trust chief executive, Judy Hargadon, said: "These findings are serious food for thought.

"Offering free school meals to every child in Newham and Durham helped to make them more likely to eat a better diet at school, do significantly better in class - with an average of two months more progress by pupils at key stages 1 and 2 - and less fussy about what they ate at home."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are committed to ensuring that free school meals are available to those pupils who need them most, but it is not viable to continue the universal pilots in the current financial climate.

"It is right to focus schools' budgets on the government's priority of directly raising attainment for all children."

Sharon Hodgson, MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, said the evaluation showed the significant benefits from having universal access to nutritional and filling school meals.

" It provides real food for thought for a government which claims to want to boost attainment and increase social mobility, but which scrapped further pilot schemes within weeks of being elected.

"If they are serious about improving outcomes for all children, they need to seriously examine the positive impact that universal free school meals has had in Durham."

The Local Authority Caterers Association said healthy school meals not only improve concentration and attainment, but also have other wide-reaching benefits.

The research was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Bryson Purdon Social Research.

It comes after the education secretary Michael Gove ordered a review of school food, amid concerns that academies can opt out of strict nutritional guidelines introduced to raise standards in school kitchens.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    surely "paid for by somebody else school meals" is more accurate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    5 Minutes ago

    An opinion based on nothing is worthless. //

    In your opinion...but many people who say what you just did are very quick to demand evidence from others, whilst not being so keen to provide same for their statements. E.g., yours!

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    singleandnokids - if you can work out a way of stopping poor people breeding too much whilst not damaging their kids can you let us know please? Or do the kids not matter?

    BTW, sorry you're so poor that you can't afford to help look after those struggling to survive - maybe you need to see where you failed in life?

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    8 Minutes ago
    At least our children have a choice.

    But thanks to USA & UK sanctions engineered by Israel, there is food poverty in Iran//

    Iran seems to be able to afford a nuclear weapons programme, so stop blaming the jews for its problems. How did you manage to turn a thread into school dinners into a BBC/Guardian style anti-semitic rant?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    All the people marking comments like my down must be breeders. It's your job to feed your kid and besides you are well subsidised by the likes of me so there are no excuses

    I think you will find that people are marking you down because of your very selfish attitude. Probably a case of because you didn't have free meals at school nobody else is allowed to have them. Grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Lets hope they are better organised than when I was at school, I was entitled to free school dinners. We were made to queue in a seperate line, and was only allowed in when the paying children were all in, which meant we had what was left. The biggest stigma was everyone knew who the poor kids were. I stopped queuing after awhile, I'd rather be hungry then be seen in the poor queue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Many children live on little food on a daily basis. Some of this because of poor parenting but alot is due to the legacy of poor education of their parents. I would have free breakfast clubs at every primary school. Maybe I'm just naive, we wouldn't allow fast food companies to be sponsor the Olympics where a healthy diet matters, would we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.


    "Oh no not the ridiculous requests for evidence again, how tedious. This is HYS, people are entitled to express their opinion."

    An opinion based on nothing is worthless. The tedium on HYS is the trotting out of baseless claptrap in the hope the repetition will strengthen the 'argument' (usually ignorant prejudice) expressed.

    HYS is not a branch of CBBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    It seems the problem is parents not providing their children with healthy meals, whether through fault of their own or social pressures. So why not take money from child-related benefits, and use it to pay for universal free school lunches. Parent's aren't spending it wisely, so we'll spend it wisely for them. And no additional cost to the taxpayer, but we'll all reap the rewards in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    I hear many poorer kids get sent to school without breakfast. No idea if their parents can really not afford to feed them but giving them lunch at school is a great way for them to benefit and cutting out their feckless parents. Dinners at school should be an efficient way of giving kids healthy food and hopefully helping their prospects in life. A good place for my higher rate tax to go I say.

  • Comment number 135.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I'd emphatically support this subject to it not being subject to the vicious anti-obesity rhetoric which is already doing so much harm to school-age kids of all sizes. The current moral panic over a few 'fat' kids distracts from the much wider issues of malnutrition & poverty. Make it about reducing stigma, improving concentration, introducing a range of foods, and keep Jamie Oliver well away.

  • Comment number 133.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    ..I don't think it should be given to school children who's parents are fortunate enough to have a sufficient income coming in..

    Why not, they pay taxes too and that is the idea of a universal benefit. Plus what would you call a sufficient income? More often than not, parents of an upper income bracket send their children to private school, so would not be included in this scheme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    94 Connor MacLeod
    Cash for school meals or pay for prisons when people fail?
    I never had school meals of any description strangely my parents actually fed me.
    Re the expense of prisons, nowadays yes with all the comforts of home whereas I am rather old fashioned deep, dark, dank, dirty, dungeons. What keeps people out of jail the naked fear of ever returning something which has been forgotten.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I attended a Grammar School ( you know that vehicle for social mobility). I was the only pupil in the school that had free school lunch. Everyone knew I was on free meals because my dinner ticket was a different colour. I dreaded every lunch time for 7 years. I think this is a brilliant idea. We can afford it. After all, we can subsidise food (& drink) for MPs, so no problem. Simple

  • Comment number 128.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Amazes me what an unhappy relationship British society has with its children. Anyone can have them and (the most extreme cases of abuse apart) raise them however they choose.They're guinea pigs for govts to experiment on, pushing their various ideologies whilst ignoring the evidence of what works and people resent their tax being spent on them. Misses the point that they are the future for us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    #There are an infinate amount of jobs for the 'educated',#

    Hilarious tell that to all the unemployed so called graduates.

    Or all those turned down jobs as overqualified.

    Every child 'helped' is another done down. The whole basis and objective is garbage.


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