ATL surveyed 552 teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders in primary and secondary state schools and academies in the UK about breakfast clubs and school lunches.
Almost a quarter believe that parents have to rely on breakfast clubs to feed their children due to a lack of money at home caused by unemployment.
According to 77 per cent of respondents eating breakfast means that a pupil’s concentration is better, while 71 per cent say it improves their ability to learn.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said, ‘Getting a good nutritious start to the day has a huge impact on children’s ability to learn and concentrate at school. Many schools do everything they can to ensure children eat well during school term-time.
‘But there are many children living in poverty, who we fear won’t be getting a decent meal a day in the holidays and this is something the Government urgently needs to discuss.’
‘Although families in need have access to food banks, these can only be used a limited number of times when families are in dire need. The Government needs to stop shouting about "skivers" and think about the children who are affected by the poverty of their parents whether they are in or out of work.’
More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of respondents say pupils attend a breakfast club because their parent or carer has to go to work early and needs to leave them at school. As more parents are working full time, there is a greater need for breakfast clubs.
A classroom teacher from a primary school in Kent said, ‘Although there is a charge for our breakfast club, we have accessed funding for those pupils on free school meals and the breakfast club had an effect on their attendance, concentration and being in school for the start of lessons.'
Judith Bainbridge, a primary teacher from Durham, said, ‘Quite a lot of pupils went to childcare before school, but because of costs, parents could not afford to do it anymore and decided it was much cheaper to send them to school to a breakfast club.’
When questioned whether the Government should provide funding to support more breakfast clubs three-quarters believe that they should. One support member of staff in a primary school in Dudley said, ‘Many children from poorer homes who receive free school meals should also be able to access a breakfast club free of charge.’
The survey also looked at school lunches with a third of respondents saying there is not a good enough selection of food on offer in their school or college. Just over a quarter (26 per cent) thought that the portion size is inadequate for the age of pupils. A quarter also stated they do not think lunchtime food is good quality.
However, 67 per cent said their school or college encourages pupils to eat healthy food for lunch. Alexis Watkins, a head of department in a secondary school in Derbyshire, said, ‘We have a points system for the food pupils buy – the pupils with the most points over the term in each year group get a prize for being the healthiest eaters.’
Nearly 80 per cent said their school or college teaches practical cooking skills where pupils can get involved. Just over half of schools don’t grow their own food on the premises but 85 per cent of schools and colleges ensure that they teach pupils where food comes from.
Almost all (99.5 per cent) of the respondents stated that they believe it is important that pupils learn about food and healthy eating, including basic cooking skills.
Sue Willans, a member of special education needs staff in a primary school in Hertfordshire, said, ‘Many of our parents themselves can’t cook and have poor knowledge about healthy eating. Next year our school will be including cooking for all children. Information on healthy eating is already part of our school curriculum and is embedded into all aspects where food in involved.’
Jackie Read, a teacher in primary school from Surrey, said, ‘I think it is important to educate children on cooking healthy food and part of that should look at budgeting and hot to look around for good buys. It should also make them aware that healthy options are not really expensive.’
Year-round breakfast clubs
Meanwhile, Magic Breakfast, the charity which provides 7,500 pupils in 230 primary schools with free, healthy breakfasts, is concerned about children’s nutrition during the holidays and is calling for year-round breakfast clubs. The charity has 130 schools on its waiting list.
This year the charity launches Magic Breakfast 365, offering breakfasts during the summer holidays, with one its partner schools in London.
Magic Breakfast’s founder Carmel McConnell said, 'There is now so much compelling data as to why school breakfast clubs are needed, which is why we are asking for help to scale up our successful model. The new ATL research demonstrates the value of providing a nutritious breakfast at school at the start of every day to those children in greatest need.'
She added, ‘With our partner schools, we propose a national plan for breakfast, cookery and exercise clubs throughout the year and we have a template to make this work. With an ongoing recession Magic Breakfast 365 can greatly help vulnerable communities with practical food aid and skills. Our waiting list of schools needing urgent food aid has never been higher, so we know that there are hungry and malnourished kids out there who need support 365 days a year.’