IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Young people are not benefitting fully from free school meals

17 April 2018

Secondary school pupils are not benefitting fully from free school meals because of issues of eligibility, adequacy and delivery, researchers from UCL Institute of Education (IOE) have revealed.

School canteen; US Department of Agriculture

Drawing on qualitative findings from a larger mixed methods study which looked at 45 11-15 year-olds and their parents in low income households, the researchers suggested that although half were receiving free school meals, half were not.

Usually this was because the parents were in receipt of Working Tax Credits, whilst in other cases the family's immigration status meant they had no recourse to public funds.

Speaking at a conference on food and poverty, the academics also explained that children's access to and experiences of school meals are also determined by variable school policies and practices. Drawing on family case studies and young people's accounts, it was found some children had positive experiences while others reported going hungry, social exclusion, stigma and shame.

The presentation took place at King's College London, in the first-ever national research conference on household food insecurity - a quickly growing field of research.

Dr Rebecca O'Connell, Dr Abigail Knight and Professor Julia Brannen's discussion considers how national and school policies may better protect children's health and social inclusion and reflects upon the wider relationship between state, family and the role of food in children's wellbeing.

Dr O'Connell also spoke in a panel event exploring the re-emergence of hunger and rise of food banks in the UK.

Food and Poverty 2018 takes place from 16 - 17 April at King's College London.

The research is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) /ERC grant agreement n° 337977]

Media contact

Rowan Walker, UCL Media Relations
+44 (0)20 3108 8516



U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)