Project Details


Globally, schools are recognised as determinants of children’s health and wellbeing, both directly as food providers and indirectly through delivering health and food education (Morrison, 1995; Currie et al., 2012). Nutritious school meals can meet children’s ‘right to food’, and mitigate the effects of poverty and inequality on the diets and lives of children and low-income families (O’Connell et al., 2022; Holford & Rabe, 2020). In the UK, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are more likely to grow up in poverty, and almost twice as likely to be entitled to free school meals, than children without SEND (DWP, 2023; JRF, 2022; DfE, 2022). Many children with SEND also fall outside their suggested healthy body mass index (BMI) (Smith and Ludlow, 2022), and are at greater risk of being malnourished, particularly those who show more restrictive and rigid patterns of eating (Smith et al., 2019).
However, whilst children with SEND are especially likely to benefit from nutritious school meals, special schools can face particular challenges in food provision. These include meeting the diverse needs of children with SEND, and school food standards, within the constraints of limited budgets and staffing (Schools Week, 2023). School food interventions that adopt a ‘whole school approach’, integrating food into the life of the school, appear to be most effective in promoting the uptake and impact of school food provision on children’s health and wellbeing (Dimbleby and Vincent, 2013). However, there is little evidence about food interventions in special schools, the capacity of special schools to deliver whole school approaches, or the potential of the latter to improve the diets and wellbeing of children with SEND and their families.
Short title23/81 Application development award
Effective start/end date1/06/2430/11/24


  • NIHR - National Institute for Health Research - Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC): £152,834.33


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