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Free school meals for all 'boost results'
Advances were most pronounced in pupils from poorer homes. Researchers put the attainment boost down to improvements in pupils' productivity. The study looked at the impact of extending entitlement to free school meals in three English local authority areas over a two-year period.
In two areas, Durham and Newham, meals were offered universally to pupils. In a third, Wolverhampton, entitlement was extended to cover pupils in primary and secondary schools to a greater number of but not all pupils.
The report suggested the nutritional content of school lunches was better than packed lunches and better food has been linked previously with better behaviour.
Children were more likely to eat hot food, including vegetables and carbohydrates. They were also more likely to drink water rather than fizzy drinks.
Researchers then compared the school results of children on the universal pilot with similar children in other areas. They found an average increase in attainment of about two months for those in primary school. And the impact was more pronounced for children from less affluent families and amongst those with lower prior attainment.
The study said the universal approach cost the equivalent of around £220 per primary school pupil over two years. It added that the universal entitlement pilot appeared to deliver better value for money "than some educational interventions".