The UK’s COVID-19 Free School Meals Policy: was it evidence based?

We’re pleased to announce that Dr Jennie C Parnham, winner of the Andrew Miller Prize, has now published her work on the UK strategy for the provision of free school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Parnham’s report can be accessed below, and the full academic publication is available from the Policy Design and Practice journal at the following link:


Timeline of key Free School Meal (FSM) policy events and the frequency of keywords referenced in the UK Parliament (1st March 2020 – 31st March 2021). Note: FSM – Free School Meals; HAF – Holiday Activities and Food programme; Local Authority Grant – COVID winter grant supplied to Local Authorities; Local Vouchers –    vouchers arranged by schools directly; Food Parcels – Any food supplied by the schools catering team (inclusive of meals delivered).
Note: This figure is taken from the original publication by Parnham et al. (2022) at:

Andrew Miller Prize Awarded to Jennie Parnham, Imperial College London

We are pleased to announce that, in memory of former Newton’s Apple Trustee, Andrew Miller, we have awarded the Andrew Miller Prize to Jennie Parnham, an early career researcher at Imperial College London. The prize is a small grant, which will support Jennie to carry out an analysis on the use of scientific evidence in UK policy around free school meals during COVID-19.

About Jennie

Jennie is an early career researcher based in the Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit at Imperial College London. Her main research interest is the inequality in diet and nutrition for low-income children. This was developed through her studies in Nutrition (BSc) at the University of Leeds and Social Epidemiology (MSc) at University College London. Currently, she is completing a NIHR School of Public Health Research funded PhD, evaluating nutrition welfare policies in the UK. Her PhD project included exploring the impact of the Healthy Start voucher scheme and free school meals on low-income children, filling critical evidence gaps for these policies.

About the project

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on inequalities in the UK. When schools closed in March 2020, the issue of continuing free school meals for low-income children became a topic of national concern. The Government was required to respond quickly to prevent school closures from having a drastic impact on low-income children. Their policy response, which changed over time and included a range of food-assistance measures (food packages, vouchers and, cash transfers) has been controversial, with research indicating the policy was not initially successful. It is unclear what factors drove the free school meal policy decisions and to what extent scientific evidence was considered. Therefore, this research project will review the policy and its surrounding literature to investigate the scientific and political justifications for policy decisions relating to free school meals in the UK during different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (first and second lockdowns, school holidays). Following this, the project will identify existing gaps in knowledge and make recommendations for effective and efficient food-assistance. The free school meal measures were temporary but the issue of long-term policies to reduce food insecurity in the UK persists. Through analysing the UK’s free school meal policy response, this project will consolidate lessons learnt, review the most effective mode of food assistance, and provide recommendations for current and future policies.  

The Andrew Miller Prize: funding for research on COVID-19 science in policy


We seek to award the Andrew Miller prize, a small grant of £8,000 to an early career researcher to provide funding for up to three months starting after June 2021, to carry out an analysis on the use of scientific evidence in UK policy responses to COVID-19.

We’re offering the Andrew Miller Prize in honour of Andrew Miller, a former Member of Parliament (MP) and valued Trustee of Newton’s Apple who, sadly, died in 2019. Andrew served as MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston from 1992 – 2015. He was the first Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee to be elected by all members of the House, a position in which he served for over a decade.

Andrew made numerous contributions to science policy over and above his role as an MP. He was the chair of the Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures engagement board. He chaired the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park Advisory Board and was a director of Thornton research. Such were his contributions, that Andrew was recognized by the Science Council as one of the UK’s 100 leading practicing scientists in 2014.

In honour of Andrew’s work championing the use of scientific evidence in policy making, and given the importance of science during the current COVID-19 pandemic, we seek to fund research on the use of scientific evidence in policy responses to COVID-19. In line with the ethos of our Newton’s Heirs programme, which aims to engage early career scientists with science policy, the prize is directed at early career researchers.

We invite early career researchers affiliated with the following organisations to apply:

Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) – UCL

Faculty of Public Health and Policy – LSHTM

Fuse – The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health

Health Policy Research Unit – De Montfort University

Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit – Imperial College London

The Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) – University of Sussex

The Department of Health Policy – LSE

Applicants may be asked to demonstrate their affiliation with one of these research units.

Deadline: 5pm on April 30th, 2021. For further information on how to apply, please download our guide.

Be part of our 2019-20 workshop programme!

We are currently planning or 2019-20 workshop programme! Get in touch if you want to be part of it.

Newton’s Apple Foundation was established in 2006 as a not-for-profit charity by a group made up of MP members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Specialist advisors to the Committee and Civil Servants. Their mission was to increase engagement of the scientific community in calls for evidence from the Committee and from Government Departments. Input from researchers in Science. Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is vital, given that STEM can present both challenges and solution in so many aspects of modern life.

In order to provide early-career researchers with information about how policy is formulated by the Government, and given effect by Parliament, we launched our programme of Workshops in October 2008. At the launch event in the House of Commons Lord Drayson, the then Minister of Science, and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington, welcomed this much needed initiative.

This programme of workshops has since become a major activity for us and over the last ten years. We’ve been busy running workshops in the Palace of Westminster, and at various UK Universities. To date, nearly 2,000 early-career STEM researchers have attended. Our workshops provide an opportunity for the students to engage with individuals who are, or who have been, actively engaged with policy and law-making or providing advice to Government or Parliament.

If you’re interested in having us run a workshop for your organisation, please contact us.

The Future of European Research – September 24th

Early career researchers who have engaged with our programmes might be interested in attending this Wellcome Trust event on the Future of European Research.

On September 24th, Wellcome and Newcastle University will bring together the next generation of researchers with scientists who changed policy, policymakers from government and science organisations working on research policy.

For more information, or to register, follow the link:


Durham University workshop

On July 4th, Newton’s Apple returned to Durham University to give an Introduction to Science Policy workshop. Speakers on the programme included:

Dr Michael Elves (Chairman, Newton’s Apple, formerly Director of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome and former Special Adviser to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.)

Mr Andrew Miller, (Formerly MP and Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee)

Dr Claudia Lally, (Head of Resilience, Government Office for Science.)

Dr Stephen Benn, (Director of Parliamentary Affairs, Society of Biology)

Dr Ian Gibson (former MP and Chair the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.)

Participant comments:

“Thanks for giving us this chance to meet all these great people.”

 “Case studies were particularly interesting. Good explanation of the different roles scientists have in influencing policy.”

“More on this theme please!  Sad to hear that this is a one-off event.”

 “A very interesting, informative and enjoyable workshop.”

“The range of speakers was integral to getting a well rounded and in-depth view of contributions to policy making.”

“It would have been nice to include comments from the local MP.”

“Really enjoyed it and excited to get involved now.”

Reflections on the Sheffield University Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures Workshop in Westminster

We held an “Introduction to Science Policy” workshop in Westminster on the 26th April 2017 for scholars from Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. This workshop was our first event in collaboration with Parliament’s outreach Service (Parliament UK). The objective of the workshop was to give the participating researchers some understanding of the policy-making processes in Government and Parliament and of how to influence policy.

The Speakers

Ms Naomi Saint (Universities Programme Manager for Parliament’s Outreach Service), gave an introduction to the UK Parliament and explained its structure and the roles of MPs and the Members of the House of Lords.  She explained the various functions of Parliament ranging from Law making, and scrutinising Government, to being the highest Court in the land. Her presentation included an interactive quiz, which tested the audience’s knowledge of Parliament.

Mr Paul Blomfield MP (MP for Sheffield Central) gave a more detailed account of the work of Members of Parliament. This included the stages involved in the creation of new legislation or regulation and the scrutiny of Government policy. As a representative of a large student population, with previous experience of working at the University of Sheffield, Paul was able to explain his work in a manner relevant for the audience. He stressed that MP’s need specialist information and expert opinions from outside Parliament when considering matters on the Parliamentary agenda. He encouraged participants to get to know their local MP and to offer specialist help when matters within their areas of interest are being debated in Parliament.

Mr Andrew Miller (former MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and a former Chairman of both the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee and the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee) gave an account of the role of Select Committees, focusing on the Science and Technology Select Committee. He outlined the Committee’s remit which includes the scrutiny of potential new Government policies and also exploring areas impacting on the science base where new, or altered, legislation is needed. The committee also examines the workings of the Research Councils, new incumbents in public sector roles, and investigates the impact of major science-based company mergers on the UK’s research capacity.

Andrew emphasised the importance of inquiry evidence provided by individuals and groups within the STEM community.

Dr Marsha Quallo-Wright (Head of Corporate Services, Government Office for Science) explained the work of the Government Departments and the Civil Service in the creation and implementation of policy. She explained how the Government obtains and uses scientific advice in the formulation of policies. She emphasised the work of the Government Office for Science and the advice it gives to the Prime Minister in, for example, the event of international disasters and their potential impact on the UK. She also mentioned the importance of having scientists, engineers and technologists in Government departments.

Dr Stephen Benn (Director of Parliamentary Affairs, the Royal Society of Biology) described the role and activities of the Scientific Learned Societies in responding to Governmental and Parliamentary inquiries and their calls for evidence. He talked about the interaction of these bodies with politicians in the provision of specialist advice. He stressed the important role that the STEM community and its professional bodies should have in these processes. He also mentioned the activities that are being organised by the Learned Societies in Westminster during STEM week.

The case study

The formal part of the workshop concluded with a case study to illustrate how the STEM community can provide advice during policy processes and how such advice may influence outcomes.

Dr Michael Elves (Chairman of Newton’s Apple and a former Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee) discussed the Select Committee’s examination of the problem of Light Pollution and its adverse impact upon Astronomy. This Inquiry stressed the lack of government actions to limit the effect of light pollution or give effective guidance for planning authorities in this matter. The Committee was aided in its deliberations by evidence provided by both academic and amateur astronomers and ‘Dark Skies’ campaign groups. An outcome of the Inquiry was not only an increased awareness of the issue but also improved regulatory measures and new legislation making some forms of light pollution a Statutory Nuisance.  This case study also highlighted the length of time it that it can take for scientific advice to influence new legislation.

In addition to questions to the individual speakers after their presentations, there was also a general discussion at the end of the formal presentations which ranged over a number of areas and there was good participation by members of the audience.

We were pleased to welcome Dr Jonny Wentworth from POST who joined us for this workshop.

Some conclusions from Michael W. Elves, Chairman of Newton’s Apple

From the feedback obtained from the participants in this workshop, and particularly from the comments provided, it is clear that the participants found the event informative, useful and enjoyable.  

When Newton’s Apple was established the intention was to help younger members of the STEM community (research students and early career academics) to understand the processes by which policy and legislation are made, and how these can be influenced and improved by good advice. It is encouraging therefore that the majority of the participants in this workshop said that their understanding of these processes had been improved as a result of the workshop. The motivation for many of the students attending this workshop was a desire to understand how they can influence policy.

Participant comments

“The Newton’s Apple Books are informative and useful.”

“I enjoyed the case study showing an example of how science contribution and Select Committee work had an impact for astronomy and light pollution.”

“I really enjoyed the case study by Dr Elves as it shows a real example of where science changed policy. Hope for the future!”

“If we as scientists don’t provide evidence we cannot expect policy to be based on it.”

“I liked the talk by Paul Blomfield as this was my first interaction with an MP.”

“It was useful to have real-life examples to bring the processes and institutions to life.”


Celebrating our 10th birthday

This year, we’re celebrating a decade of Newton’s Apple bridging the gap between science and society. The landscapes of both the science and policy arenas are continually shifting, and we must work hard to keep up. We’ve been pushing hard to satisfy the demand for our workshops. Despite having reached over 1600 early career researchers with our “Introduction to Science Policy” workshops, we now find there is continuing demand for more advanced workshops. To meet this demand, we plan to bring scientists and policy makers together to explore specific topics of societal importance, such as food production, energy provision and data security. We hope that the advanced programme will be run in collaboration with Learned Societies, who could nominate topics, and have future research leaders as participants. We also intend to embark on a new project to develop a better understanding of science and the Scientific Method among policy makers.


Dr Michael W Elves, Newton’s Apple Chairman





Dr Ian Gibson, Honorary President of Newton’s Apple 

Chairman’s Annual Report, 2015

As Newton’s Apple works toward to some new and exciting projects, we look back on 2014-15 in the Chairman’s annual report. The report includes a number of acknowledgements to those who have shaped the successes of the past year.

Acknowledgements from Dr Michael Elves, Chairman of Newton’s Apple: 

It is only through the support and active contributions of a number of people that our Foundation has been able to enjoy success with it’s activities. I am personally grateful for all the support and encouragement from other members of the Board of Trustees, and in particular to John Masters our Treasurer, to Dr Gillian Pepper for her work on the website, and to Andrew Miller MP, Julian Huppert MP, Stephen Metcalf MP, who have contributed to the workshops by providing meeting rooms in Westminster and being the “Science in Parliament” speakers at these workshops.  I am also pleased to acknowledge the great support from Monica Darnbrough, Ian Gibson, Brian Iddon and Stephen Benn for their fairly regular contributions as speakers in our workshops.

It is also a pleasure to acknowledge the contributions to the workshops of Elizabeth Sturkovic, Chris Fleming, Chris Darby, Jon Elliot, and Andrew Greenway all of the Government Office for Science, Amanda Dickins of BIS, Alan Malcolm of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, Andrew Crudgington of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Alex Connor of the Institute of Physics and Sarah Main, Director of CASE.  Without their support and contributions Newton’s Apple could not be the success it is.”

Read the 2015 annual report.