IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Food banks in schools: Exploring the impact on children’s learning

This project explored the growing use of food banks in schools as a means of increasing children’s engagement with learning and physical activity.

Project timeline: September 2022 - May 2023


There was increasing concern about the long-term impact of Covid on children’s learning, physical development and mental health, particularly for those from lower income households (Moss et al. 2021; Garthwaite et al. 2021). 

Research during Covid has suggested that food banks in schools were a vital source of support during the pandemic but that schools remain underfunded for the work that they do supporting families living in poverty (Bradbury et al., 2021). 

In order to consider how schools were ensuring learning for all children, whatever their income, the research used case studies of four schools which had regular food banks. In these cases, food banks were a form of educational intervention, we argue, as previous research has suggested that free food provision in schools has an impact on children’s learning and physical activity (Cohen et al. 2021).

We are also conducting a research project on Food banks in early years settings that is currently ongoing.


Partners and participants

The participants of this study were teachers, school leaders and other school staff working in schools where there were food banks.

The schools and charities who ran the food banks would be partners in the research, providing their knowledge of how they were used and the impact on children’s engagement with learning and physical activity.

For ethical and practical reasons, parents who used food banks would not be interviewed, so the focus was placed on the impact of the food bank from the point of view of the school.

Case studies

This exploratory qualitative project involved case studies of four primary schools in England which had a regular food bank on site.

These schools were conceptualised as 'telling cases' (Mitchell 1984) illustrating the pertinent issues in this area, rather than as a representative sample.

The schools were accessed through the research team’s network of contacts, with the sample designed to ensure some variation in terms of local demographics and region, so that a range of experiences were heard.

At each school, we interviewed the headteacher, three class teachers (one each from EYFS, KS1 and KS2), and any staff involved in the food bank, including those from local charities or providers who partnered with the school, or family support workers (total = 24). 

  1. To examine the views of teachers on the impact of food banks on the children they teach, in terms of engagement with learning and physical activity.
  2. To explore the advantages and disadvantages of having a food bank from the school’s point of view.
  3. To begin to evaluate the potential impact of food banks in schools as a means of alleviating child hunger and increasing children’s engagement with learning and physical activity.