No such thing as a free lunch? Exploring the consistency, validity, and uses of the ‘Free School Meals’ (FSM) measure in the National Pupil Database
Tammy Campbell and Polina Obolenskaya
This paper examines the existing literature on what the Free School Meals (‘FSM’) measure in the National Pupil Database (NPD) can proxy, and on ways in which the measure is used and understood. Through new empirical analyses of data for Reception-aged children in the NPD, and of the DWP’s Household Below Average Income (HBAI) data, it then highlights inconsistencies and change in the characteristics of Reception pupils recorded as ‘FSM,’ over time, place, and family background. It also suggests increased under-ascription of young children from low-income families / families living in poverty over the recent decade. Implications for research, interpretation, policy-making, and practice are critically discussed.