Mixed methods evaluation of Universal Free School Meals provision in two secondary schools. London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

Evaluation Completed August 2023


UFSM Policy Briefing Mar 23


NIHR – Free School Meals Infographic


Carlisle, V.R., Jessiman, P.E., Breheny, K. et al. A mixed methods, quasi-experimental evaluation exploring the impact of
a secondary school universal free school meals intervention pilot. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, (2023) 5216; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20065216 

Jessiman, P.E., Carlisle, V.R., Breheny, K. et al. A qualitative process evaluation of universal free school meal provision in two London secondary schools. BMC Public Health 23, 300 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-15082-3

What does the research mean for Local Authorities?

Many local authorities are concerned about the number of families facing food insecurity and need information about the most effective ways to improve support for those families. This study will provide evidence that is currently lacking from the UK regarding: 1) the feasibility of delivering universal free school meals in secondary schools and the barriers/facilitators to this, 2) the likely impact on health and education related outcomes from the point of view of school staff, parents/carers and students, 3) the value of investing in universal free school meals compared to other ways in which resources might be used. 


“Food poverty is a national crisis, we are grateful to be working with PHIRST Insight and our local schools as we look to create innovative and effective solutions to help ensure that children are not going hungry.” Marcus  Robinson, Commissioning Transformation Lead - Children’s Services, Hammersmith & Fulham Council

What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?

This intervention is the first time universal free school lunches have been provided in secondary schools in the UK. It is being delivered at a time when an increasing number of families are experiencing food insecurity. Our study will provide vital and timely information about the feasibility and potential impact of providing free lunches to all students in secondary schools. If we show evidence of improvements to health and wellbeing, eating habits, food security, attendance and/or behaviour at school, other schools and local authorities may consider bringing in similar provision, thereby improving the support available to more families and adolescents 

How are the public involved in the evaluation?

We have worked with the senior leadership team at both intervention and comparison schools to plan what data are possible to include in our evaluation. Two of the schools are special schools so it has been important to ensure our information sheets, surveys and interviews are accessible to all students and parents/carers. Changes we have made as a result of these conversations have included designing talking mats to use in interviews if needed, adding picture cues to the survey and recording key study information in a video. We have also worked with four parents / carers to ensure our selection methods and topic guides for the parent/carer interviews are acceptable. As a result of their suggestions we added information to the survey about statistics relating to food insecurity to try and reduce feelings of shame and stigma. We have also worked with a group of students in each of the intervention schools – we provided training for them for the role of co-researcher, and worked with them to plan observations of school lunchtimes which they then carried out. We will hold feedback meetings with both groups of students to share our findings, and to allow them to feedback their experiences of being involved in the research and their views on what our findings mean. We will also work with both intervention schools to plan the best way to share our findings with the wider school community and discuss the implications. We have a public partner Steve Strong on our study team, overseeing public involvement.

Lay summary of research

LBHF universal free school meals

Food poverty and food insecurity – where families may not have the support or money needed to buy enough food each week – is a serious and growing problem nationally. In 2019 around one in six parents in London said they could not feed their family properly, and a reduction in income during the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased food insecurity. In response to these concerns, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) set up a ‘Universal Free School Meals’ scheme, known as UFSM, in two secondary schools. Currently, universal free school meals are only provided to children in reception, year 1 and year 2 (ages 4-7 years) in England. For other age groups, children are only offered free school meals if their household income is less than £7,400. UFSM is therefore a new approach to tackling the problem of food insecurity and student hunger. 

We are working with colleagues from public health, children and adult services at LBHF to evaluate - look at the value and importance of -providing free lunches to all students in secondary schools.  

We have tried to plan the study to take into account the priorities and concerns of all interested groups within the borough.  We have agreed to focus on the following research questions:

1) Is UFSM feasible in secondary schools?

2) What is the impact of UFSM on student hunger, school attendance and behaviour, and food that is eaten in school?

3) What is the impact of UFSM on family finance and food security?

4) What do students, parents/carers and school staff see as the reasons UFSM leads to these outcomes?

5) What are the things that help or prevent UFSM being delivered effectively in secondary schools?

6) Could UFSM in secondary schools be a cost-effective approach to addressing student hunger? 

We have worked with colleagues in LBHF, school staff and parents/carers to make sure the information we plan to collect is relevant, inclusive, and acceptable. We will: i) interview students, parents/carers, school staff and catering staff from the two schools receiving UFSM about their experiences, ii) interview senior leaders in eight other secondary schools to ask what they think about UFSM in secondary schools, iii) run a student survey in the two UFSM schools and in two comparison schools to ask about food insecurity, and iv) look at information about student attendance, academic work and behaviour in the two UFSM schools and the two comparison schools before and after UFSM was introduced. We will also work with a group of student co-researchers in both UFSM schools who will observe lunchtimes in their schools for one week. This group of students will work with us to decide what they should look for and how to record this. They will share the information they collect with the study team.  

Local Authority / Partner(s)

Marcus Robinson, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham 


PHIRST Insight Research Team

Judi Kidger, Vicky Carlisle, Tricia Jessiman, Rona Campbell, Russ Jago, Steve Strong, Katie Breheny 

Contact: Judi.Kidger@bristol.ac.uk