Free school meals make pupils hungrier to learn

30 July 2012 in Education and Mayor
Giving free school meals to Newham primary school children boosts results and improves behaviour, a study has found.

The research showed that schools where all kids got free meals at lunchtime helped children from poorer backgrounds do better in class.

Newham, the second most deprived borough in England, has provided free school meals for all primary school children since 2009. The borough is continuing to fund the programme despite harsh government cuts.

The pioneering scheme tackles child poverty. It offers support to 3300 poor households with children who are not eligible for free school meals. On average these families are £750 a year better off (before tax) as a result.

According to the study *, offering free school meals saw a marked improvement in learning.

Pupils advanced by two months on average, while truancy rates fell. Pupils were more likely to eat vegetables and carbohydrates and more drank water than fizzy drinks.

Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales said: “Child Poverty is a national scandal. But as a local authority we are determined to make a difference. This scheme puts money in families’ pockets and helps children get the best possible start at school. In an area where three quarters of households earn at or below the median income it makes a real difference.

“Guaranteeing children get a good meal helps them concentrate in lessons and creates a more productive learning environment. It’s great to have the evidence that our investment in local children is paying off. The Government should respond to the evidence in their own report and fund free school meals for all children in deprived areas.”

After the free school meal scheme had been running for two years, the number of children eating a school meal soared by 28%. The programme also increased take-up amongst children who were previously eligible for free school meals but did not claim them.

After two years there had been a 16% increase in take up amongst pupils who were previously eligible for free school meals but did not claim them.

*The research, was prepared by a consortium consisting of the Nation Centre for Social Research (NatCen), the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Bryson Purdon Social.