Identifying the exclusions within academic literature regarding free school meal practices and policies: A scoping review

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstractpeer-review


Background Free School Meals (FSM) have been a common feature of the United Kingdom’s educational landscape since the 19th century. Although the provisions have changed over time, they have focused on improving health and educational outcomes for school aged children from low-income households through the provision of nutritious meals. Since 1999, education has been a devolved power in the UK, meaning that each national legislature is responsible for creating eligibility criteria for FSM. However, this has led to diversity in FSM policy and practice. This study is focused on understanding the impact of such diversity upon already marginalised children.

Methods To investigate these diverging policies and exclusions created by them, a scoping review was conducted across ten databases using relevant search terms and looking at academic publications between July 2013 and January 2023. A scoping review was chosen as the most appropriate synthesis method as Arksey and O’Malley (2005) clarified it can be utilised when the research questions are broader and less succinct than that used within a standard systematic review. Papers were considered eligible for this study if they had been peer reviewed, were published within the established timeframe, were UK based and discussed FSM further than simply being a proxy indicator for poverty. A narrative synthesis was developed from this review.

Results The search terms returned 5158 articles, and through removing duplicates and conducting title and abstract searches, alongside a later reading and extraction process, 92 papers were included within this review. These papers returned themes regarding the attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM eligible children; differences in universal provisions; holiday activity and food clubs; stigma; and health inequalities.

Conclusion From this review and synthesis, several issues were identified, including the inaccessibility of information for parents/carers, a lack of communication between stakeholders (including children), a lack of voice granted to children on the topic of FSM, infringing on their rights under the provisions of the UNCRC and a several groups of children who may find themselves ineligible across the UK, such as travellers and no recourse to public funds children outside of England. These gaps within academic literature indicate threats to social and educational wellbeing(both physical and mental health may be impacted) and will form the basis of further studies within a PhD project.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)A97-A98
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of Epidemiology & Community Health
Issue numberSuppl 1
Early online date24 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2023
EventSociety for Social Medicine and Population Health (SSM): 67th Annual Scientific Meeting - University of Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Sept 20238 Sept 2023

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