Researchers from the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research and Public Health Wales presented their Case Study on school meals in Wales at a launch event in London. At the event held on the 17th November, representatives from all four UK devolved nations presented the current status of school meals. The event which was organised by Research Consortium for School Health & Nutrition and the World Food Programme (UK) to inform and support the provision of free school meals.
Professor Sinead Brophy and Dr Katherine Wooley led the production of a case study into the school meals system in Wales. The Welsh case study forms part of a UK-wide study covering the devolved nation’s school meals programmes.
Global library of case studies
The UK case studies will also contribute to the global library of case studies developed for the School Meals Coalition. The Research Consortium for School Health & Nutrition is facilitating the collaboration between academic, research and development partners to fill the global knowledge gap in school health and nutrition and build an evidence base to guide policymakers and programmed implementers.
The current situation in Wales
In 2018, the Welsh Government started to revise the free school meals policy due to the recognition that the current policy was failing to meet all children in relative income poverty. As of September 2022, universal free school meals for all primary school children are being rolled out, starting with the youngest years. By 2024 all primary school-aged children will receive free school meals.
The case study overviews Wales’s population, economics, education and school feeding programme implementation. In addition, it highlights the administrative, infrastructure, and supply chain challenges for schools and the stigma attached to free school meals for pupils.
The Centre will continue to work with partners from other devolved nations and globally on cross-learning and information sharing. Researchers will be looking to evaluate the rollout of free school meals and the benefits to the health and well-being of children.
To deliver this research, the Centre will work with other organisations and networks, such as the HAPPEN Primary School Network and the GENIUS School Food Network to reach and gather information from schools across Wales.
Professor D.A.P. Bundy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The development of the UK school food case study marks a crucial first step for the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition in our efforts to document examples of best practice in national school meals programmes from around the world.
By engaging with leading experts from each of the four UK devolved nations, we have been able to develop a contextually sensitive profile of the current school meals landscape across the United Kingdom, demonstrating the strength of the programme as well as the areas in which the nations can learn from each other.
As we continue to document exemplary programmes from the countries of the School Meals Coalition and beyond, we hope to build a catalogue of case studies from across continents that can assist countries when building or scaling up their own national programmes.”
Professor Sinead Brophy, Director at the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research, added: “Early years are critically important to all areas of a child’s learning and development. Access to free nutritional school meals can help reduce inequalities and ensure that children, especially those from lower-income families, can receive a healthy meal daily.
As a team, our researchers and data analysts will gather data and opinions and evaluate the rollout of free school meals and the impact on the health and well-being of primary school children in Wales.
Being part of the School Meals Coalition will allow us to share findings, knowledge and best practice with other researchers from the UK and worldwide. This work is essential to inform evidence-based decision-making on school health and nutrition.”
The National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research (NCPHWR) is a Population Data Science Centre of Excellence. NCPHWR is funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales.