Breakfast clubs: Schools report impact on behaviour, concentration and social skills

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Behaviour, eating habits, attainment, parental engagement – the positive impact of school breakfast clubs for children from low-income families has been spelt out in new research.

National School Breakfast Programme 2018-2021

The evaluation has been published by Family Action and Magic Breakfast, which delivered the government’s National School Breakfast Programme between 2018 and 2021.

The evaluation (2021) finds that the schools who hosted breakfast clubs reported that the provision had supported improvement across key areas, including:

  • Improved pupil behaviour (94 per cent).
  • Healthier eating habits among pupils (95 per cent).
  • Readiness to learn (99 per cent).
  • Concentration in class (99 per cent).
  • Educational attainment (94 per cent).
  • Better social skills (93 per cent).
  • Better parental engagement (79 per cent).

The schools also reported a 28 per cent reduction in late marks across a term and a 24 per cent reduction in behaviour incidents among pupils attending the clubs.

The programme launched in 2018 and at its peak was supporting 375,000 pupils a day, with as many as 2,400 schools involved. Of the schools in the report, 1,391 were primary and 293 were secondary.

The breakfast offering consisted of a selection of low-sugar cereals and porridge, as well as special recipe low fat bagels. Schools provided their own milk and spreads.

The format differed from school to school, with the most popular format being traditional “family-style” sit-down breakfasts. Other approaches included offering classroom or playground-based breakfasts or offering the food in a “grab and go” style.

National School Breakfast Programme 2022-23

A new school breakfast programme – also called the National School Breakfast Programme – has now been launched with £24m in government funding. This is being run by Family Action with a target of reaching 2,500 schools in the poorest areas of the country. Guidance on how to apply has been published (DfE, 2022). The DfE says the scheme is to begin from September 2022 although 1,200 schools have already signed up and are already receiving food.

Schools in disadvantaged areas will be eligible if they have 40 per cent or more pupils in bands A to F of the income deprivation affecting children index (IDACI). The DfE guidance (2022) says it is prioritising schools in the government's 12 Opportunity Areas. All eligible schools should be contacted in January 2022.

Schools on the programme will receive a full subsidy for breakfast club provision until the end of this academic year, with this subsidy to be reduced to 75 per cent from August.

Magic Breakfast is not involved in running the new National School Breakfast Programme, having not applied for the tender. A blog on the charity's website states (2022): "Magic Breakfast did not bid for this funding because we do not believe the contract would allow us to meet our charitable mission – to ensure no child is too hungry to learn."

A poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in 2019 found that 81 per cent of the school leaders responding had seen an increase in the number of children coming to school hungry over the previous five years. The union says this will have only worsened during the pandemic.

Holiday Activities and Food Clubs

Elsewhere, more than 600,000 children attended free, government-funded Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) clubs last summer, including more than 495,000 who were eligible for free school meals.

The clubs offered healthy food and extra-curricular activities such as music, sports, arts, and cooking classes, and for the first time they were also run across the recent Christmas break.

HAF clubs became a national programme in 2021 as part of the government’s response to the pandemic and in response to its poor handling of the roll-out of free school meal vouchers. They are targeted at pupils on free school meals, but councils have flexibility over how they can best serve the needs of children and families in their area.

The HAF programme has been allocated more than £200m to continue over the next three years and the 2021 attendance figures come as funding allocations for 2022 have been distributed to local authorities (DfE, 2021).

An independent evaluation exploring how the programme was implemented and its impact is due to be published later this year.

James Bowen, director of policy at the NAHT, said: “It’s really good to see schools reporting a positive impact from the holiday activities and food programme and breakfast clubs that they have run. Once again, schools have stepped up to go the extra mile for children during the pandemic. It’s good news that the government is extending the funding for these programmes.

“Of course, it is very concerning that child poverty and holiday hunger is something schools are having to try and fix. We’d like to see more done to tackle the root causes of poverty to eliminate the problem entirely.”

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