Universal free school meals in Scotland: A process evaluation of implementation and uptake

Stephanie Chambers, Allison Ford, Nicola Boydell, Laurence Moore, Martine Stead, Douglas Eadie

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

In January 2015 Scotland moved from a means tested system for Free School Meals (FSM) to a universal system for children aged 4-8 years. Policy advocates believed a universal system would improve children’s eating habits, and reduce nutritional and other inequalities. This work reports on a process evaluation of implementation and uptake focusing on barriers, facilitators and unintended consequences.
Data were collected from a number of sources. A self-completion questionnaire was sent via email to all local authorities asking about key areas of activity. Indepth telephone interviews were carried out with local authority representatives (n = 19). Case studies were carried out in 10 schools in the first months of the policy’s implementation and in the new school year. Forty-nine interviews were carried out with school staff (catering, senior managers and teaching), and observations of the dining hall environment. Six focus groups were carried out with parents (n = 37) whose children were both previously and not previously eligible for FSM.
Overall, the policy was implemented with only minor difficulties. Uptake levels ranged (64% to 91%), with a mean of 76% across local authorities. Facilitators included forward planning, previous levels of high uptake, good communication at all levels, staggered lunchtimes, popular menu choices and taster sessions. Barriers included school space, staff recruitment and funding, and children’s speed through the dining hall. Unintended consequences included queuing, increased pressure on catering staff and a perceived increase in food waste. Parents were supportive of the policy and believed that it afforded them financial and time savings and had nutritional benefits.
UFSM for 4-8 year old children has been implemented successfully. The policy has the potential to improve Scottish children’s dietary intakes through nutritional standards for school meals and to reduce nutritional inequalities.
Key messages:
Universal free school meals for 4-8 year olds were implemented successfully in Scotland. This policy has the potential to improve children’s diets in the long term
Implementation and uptake could be improved through clearer communication around the policy’s rationale, and investment in training and adequate staffing levels for catering and supervisory staff
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Journal of Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2016


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