Call for £75m to end school breakfast club 'lottery'

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

One in five schools in England offers no breakfast provision for disadvantaged pupils, with cost and staffing the most commonly cited barriers.

Furthermore, a new report estimates that as many as 2.7 million disadvantaged children and young people (74%) could be missing out on breakfast.

The report – entitled Hidden hunger – has been published by charity Magic Breakfast (2022) and warns of “a patchwork of provision with no coherent framework”.

The Department for Education’s current school breakfast programme offers a 100% subsidy for eligible schools in disadvantaged areas. Participating schools must have 40% or more pupils in bands A-F of the income deprivation affecting children index (DfE, 2022).

However, Magic Breakfast warns that while 3.7 million children and young people live in bands A to F, only 26% of these students are being reached with government-funded breakfasts – leaving 2.7 million facing a postcode lottery.

Furthermore, from September the subsidy is to reduce to 75% (with an overall DfE investment of £24m) and the report is concerned that this is happening at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is driving up demand for breakfast provision.

The report states: “A lack of national policy to deliver breakfasts at scale has resulted in an ineffective patchwork of delivery by the third sector, local authorities, schools, businesses and in England, the government. This approach does not reach the majority of disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.”

The report finds that 18% of schools in England offer no breakfast provision at all, and up-take of provision other schools varies hugely.

The charity says that the most effective approach is to offer blanket free provision: “Approximately 67% of schools with breakfast provision have a charge and have limited free places, with charges ranging from 20p to over £5 per day. Free places or the ability to request free breakfast is not enough, with families feeling stigmatised and therefore not accessing provision. Even a charge of 20p per day can be insurmountable for families who live hand to mouth, and this will only worsen amidst the cost of living crisis.”

However, only 24% are supported by the government’s funding with many schools supporting breakfast provision out of their own, already-stretched, budgets. The report says that 27% of schools cite “costs” and 41% cite “staffing” as barriers to setting up provision.

In England, the report calls for the DfE’s National School Breakfast Programme to drop plans to reduce its subsidy from September. It also wants to see an additional £75m allocated to the programme from September with a revised aim of reaching 75% of the most disadvantaged schools currently missing out on DfE support.

The report presents evidence from its own work in schools showing the impact breakfast provision can have on attainment, attendance, and readiness to learn.

Indeed, a national evaluation of the government’s National School Breakfast Programme between 2018 and 2021 found that schools who hosted breakfast clubs reported improvement across key areas, including: Improved pupil behaviour (94%), healthier eating habits among pupils (95%), readiness to learn (99%), concentration in class (99%), attainment (94%), better social skills (93%), and better parental engagement (79%).

Lindsey MacDonald, chief executive at Magic Breakfast, said: “The Hidden Hunger report exposes the lottery of school breakfast funding and provision in the UK and the impact that this has on children’s learning and life chances. As pupils struggle to catch up on lost learning and the cost-of-living crisis takes hold, Magic Breakfast is asking governments to implement meaningful funding for breakfast food, staffing, and support. This has been proven to drastically improve long term opportunities for future generations and increase the economic health of our nation.”

The National Association of Head Teachers is supporting the charity’s call for more funding for breakfast provision.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Hunger is a real concern for school staff who regularly see children arriving in the morning without having eaten, and therefore not ready to learn. These concerns have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the financial impact it has had on many families. We know that some children rely on school for their only certain meal of the day.

“Many schools already run breakfast clubs for their pupils and often look to target that support for the pupils that need it most. But there are huge challenges facing schools in providing enough places. Capacity, staffing, availability of space, and school transport are all issues, and the government needs to recognise that these all come at an additional cost.”

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