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New Evaluation of Universal Infant Free School Meals report published

Children eating

Today, (Wednesday 24 January 2018) the Education Policy Institute has published a new report, Evaluation of Universal Infant Free School Meals.

The report looks at the impact that the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) policy has had on take up of school meals; how the policy has been implemented in schools; the costs to government and the cost-savings to parents; and views on the educational, social and health outcomes for children.

Alongside statistical analysis and economic modelling, this research is informed by fieldwork carried out by CooperGibson Research, including case study visits to schools, interviews, and surveys of school leaders, teachers, caterers, and parents/carers.

Among its findings, the report highlighted:

  • Almost all catering staff surveyed felt that the quality of the food produced for schools had either stayed the same or had improved due to UIFSM.
  • 41 per cent of school leaders reported that the general profile of healthy eating across the school had improved as a direct result of the introduction of UIFSM.
  • In schools visited for this research, UIFSM was perceived by all types of school staff to have led to an increase in take-up of school meals, particularly among Reception and Key Stage 1 pupils.
  • Across the full calendar year, the estimated proportion of infants from the lowest quartile of household income receiving a free meal in the previous week increased from an estimated 25 per cent shortly before UIFSM’s introduction (equivalent to 34 per cent in a given school week) to 62 per cent (equivalent to 84 per cent in a given school week) afterwards.
  • Schools with a latest Ofsted inspection outcome of Outstanding had the highest take-up rates, at 88.3 per cent - 6.0 percentage points greater than that of schools judged Inadequate.
  • Some teachers thought attainment/progress in class (39 per cent); ability to complete deskbased activities (36 per cent); and ability to concentrate, not getting distracted (36 per cent) had increased as a result of UIFSM, with none reporting a deterioration.
  • 30 per cent of school leaders felt that pupils’ overall health had improved as a result of UIFSM being implemented, while 54 per cent of 57 teachers surveyed felt that the policy had had a positive impact on the health of children eligible for FSM.
  • Parents who no longer had to make packed lunches reported a median weekly saving of £10. The cost saving experienced as a result of free school meals provision was highlighted by some parents as having been especially beneficial to their households, not only in removing ‘stigma’ in claiming free meals, but also assisting with household budgets.

Rob Percival of Food for Life said: “This study concludes that Universal Infant Free School Meals have had a positive impact on take-up of healthy meals by infants and is cost-effective as an education intervention. The percentage of infants eating healthy school lunches has increased from 34% to 84%. However, it shows that further efforts are needed to ensure more Key Stage 2 children are eating a healthy school meal, as there is no evidence of a substantial change in take-up within this group. This is not good enough, given the continuing rise in levels of childhood obesity.”

“A whole school approach, such as the approach embodied in the Food for Life School Award, is needed to maximise take-up of both Universal Infant Free School Meals and Key Stage 2 school meals. Independent evaluation of Food for Life showed that free school meal take-up went up by 13 percentage points in Food for Life schools over two years, and by 20 percentage points in secondary schools, primarily due to normalisation of high quality school lunches and the removal of social stigma. This raises further concerns over the Governments ongoing cuts to public health budgets, which threaten to reduce support for schools from evidence-based programmes such as Food for Life.”

“The Government must now reverse these cuts, promote a whole school approach, implement appropriate national monitoring of school meal take-up, and ring-fence and review school meal budgets, to ensure that school meals are properly funded and all children are supported to eat a healthy school lunch.”

Click here to read the report in full