Forty per cent of schools in 128 local authorities reported a decrease in the number of breakfast clubs, following a freedom of information request by Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP and shadow minister for children and families.
Essex county council said the county had 219 breakfast clubs in schools last year, but 169 this year. In Surrey, 2,870 children received breakfast last year compared to 1,200 in 2012.
Earlier this month, Magic Breakfast, a charity which provides free breakfasts to more than 6,000 children in 210 primary schools in England, reported a rise in the number of schools applying for food support. There have been cases of ‘desperate’ primary schools seeking help because local charities supporting their breakfast clubs have run out of funds.
‘This has been our worst summer for school applications – we’ve seen our waiting list grow from 100 to 129 schools,’ said Carmel McConnell, chief executive of Magic Breakfast. ‘Many of those schools have had breakfast club funding withdrawn without warning and face a new term without food for an increasing number of hungry pupils.’
Many children go to school hungry because of their parents’ working hours and, increasingly, families’ inability to afford their children’s breakfast at home. With the recession taking a bite, parents are having to sometimes choose between a meal for themselves and their children.
Experts say children going to school hungry cannot focus in class. Breakfast clubs are seen by many as important for learning and reaching educational goals.
According to figures obtained by Magic Breakfast, 88 per cent of schools said their breakfast clubs improved children’s attainment and achievement. Ninety-three per cent said they increased children’s concentration and energy in class.
‘Giving children a healthy breakfast ensures they are set up for the start of the school day, with many important lessons such as literacy and numeracy being held in the morning,’ said Alex Cunningham from Magic Breakfast.
In 2007, Wales introduced free breakfasts for all primary school children entitled to free school meals. The Department for Education has said it does not plan to follow suit, despite campaigns for free breakfasts for primary school pupils in England.
In June, doctors and head teachers urged the Government to look into introducing free breakfasts for pupils on free school meals in an attempt to improve academic achievement.
Magic Breakfast is also campaigning. ‘We’re working to not only create a national conversation about the importance of breakfast clubs, but to get everyone at all levels to recognise their importance. In an ideal world, breakfast clubs would be supported with funding, so every child has access to a healthy start free from stigma,’ said Mr Cunningham.