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Interventions to increase free school meal take-up

Jenny Woodward (Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)
Pinki Sahota (Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)
Jo Pike (School of Education, Leeds University, Leeds, UK)
Rosie Molinari (Education Leeds, Leeds, UK and Consultant, Huddersfield, UK)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to design and implement interventions to increase free school meal (FSM) uptake in pilot schools. This paper describes the interventions, reports on acceptability (as perceived by school working parties) and explores the process of implementing change.


The research consisted of two phases, an exploratory phase followed by an intervention phase. Findings from the latter are presented. Ten pilot schools (five primary and five secondary) in Leeds, England were recruited. Each established a working party, examined current claiming processes and implemented individualised action plans. This paper draws on the final action plans and interviews/focus groups with working parties.


Interventions to improve FSM claiming process, minimise discrimination and maximise awareness were designed. The majority were implemented successfully, the exception being amending anti-bullying policies. Creative ways of delivering interventions were demonstrated. The process of change was effective, critical factors being having individualised action plans that allowed flexibility in implementation, reflecting on current claiming processes, and setting up working parties.

Practical implications

Ways of working with schools to increase FSM uptake and more generally improve nutritional policies are suggested. Amending claiming systems in schools is recommended as is greater pupil and parent involvement in nutrition policies.


An estimated 300,000 UK children do not take FSMs they are entitled to – with many schools unaware of the issue. This study worked with schools to discover how to address this issue and evaluated the perceived acceptability and feasibility of the approach.



The research team acknowledges the ten schools that participated in the research project. This includes all members of the working parties in each school. In addition, the authors acknowledge Sarah Bowyer who worked as a researcher on Phase 2 of the Leeds FSM research project. The research was funded by Education Leeds, in order to inform their School Meal Strategy. Education Leeds gave advice to the research team in regards to communicating with schools and assisted recruitment by publishing details of the research project in their bulletins. They gave feedback on the prepared manuscript, particularly in regards to school meal policy. Education Leeds were not involved in the design of the study, the conduct of the research of the analysis of the results.


Woodward, J., Sahota, P., Pike, J. and Molinari, R. (2015), "Interventions to increase free school meal take-up", Health Education, Vol. 115 No. 2, pp. 197-213.



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