2 November 2022

Researchers receive a £1 million grant to investigate school meals service

Dr Heather Ellis and a team of researchers have secured funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to investigate the past, present and future of the school meals service.

Photograph of two children eating a school meal

Professor Gary McCulloch from University College of London (Principal investivator) and Dr Gurpinder Singh Lalli, from the University of Wolverhampton, will collaborate with Dr Heather Ellis to research their project entitled ‘The School Meals Service: Past, Present - and Future?’. The project will explore the aims, achievements, and limitations of the UK School Meals Service (SMS) from its inception in 1906.

Through a combination of historical and ethnographic approaches, the team aim to discover the service's impact on schools, communities and pupils and what lessons can be learned to improve the service.

The project will conduct the first systematic policy and social history of the SMS from its beginnings in 1906 until the present day, combined with an ethnographic study of the experience of school meals consumed by children today across four partner schools in Bradford, London, Cardiff and Glasgow.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that dissatisfaction with the school meals service can be traced back many years which was highlighted in the campaign led by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in the early 2000s, against the use of cheap processed foods such as the now infamous 'Turkey Twizzlers’.

The project will involve a deep, critical analysis of the history of the UK’s SMS, in terms of both the intention and impact of policy choices and implementation. This will enable a longitudinal assessment of the current challenges facing the SMS and will allow the team to offer critical recommendations to both policymakers and practitioners designed to secure the future of the SMS in the UK.

Dr Heather Ellis said: “I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues at University College London and the University of Wolverhampton on the first detailed historical and ethnographic study of the UK School Meals Service with a particular focus on the lived cross-generational experience of those receiving and preparing school meals. We hope that it will provide valuable and much-needed insight into the future development of policy and provision around school meals in the UK and internationally.”

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