account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Impact of the universal infant free school meal policy

Researchers: Dr Birgitta Rabe | Dr Angus Holford

Project overview

This study will assess the impact of the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) policy, which was introduced in September 2014. The policy means that all children in state-funded English infant schools (reception to Year 2) can receive a daily free school meal.

The study will assess the impact of the policy on:

  • Educational performance at age 5 and 7
  • Personal, social and emotional development at age 5
  • Body Mass Index and rates of children being underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese
  • School absences due to illness and medical appointments in infant school
  • Take-up of school lunches, both among newly eligible children and those who were already eligible for free school meals.

The cost of UIFSM is estimated at £400 per pupil per year plus in excess of £15m capital spending on school kitchen facilities in the first year. Researchers will use several large datasets and surveys to provide evidence on the take-up of meals, as well as assessing the impact on different subgroups of children and schools. A cost-benefit calculation aims to determine the cost of raising attainment by a given margin through UIFSM and benchmark this against other comparable policies.

The outcomes and recommendations of this project will be communicated through a project report and academic papers, which will be communicated to policy makers and national and international academic conferences.


  • Dr Birgitta Rabe
    University of Essex
  • Dr Angus Holford
    University of Essex

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.