School children losing 'learning time' because they are hungry

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Primary school children in England and Wales turning up at school hungry are missing out on eight weeks of education, reveals new research.

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The ‘Lost Education’ report, commissioned by Kellogg’s, and based on a poll of 762 teachers, reveals that more than a quarter of respondents have seen an increase in the last two years in the number of children being sent to school without breakfast.

More than 25 per cent of those surveyed said they have seen children fall asleep in the classroom through a lack of food or drink.

Teachers reported that 2.4 pupils in each class are turning up for school at least once a week without having had any breakfast, resulting in an inability to concentrate and an increased demand on the time of staff.

They estimate that children arriving at school hungry are losing approximately one hour of learning time that day.

The report says that if a child arrives at school hungry once a week over a school year, it adds up to 36 hours of lost learning time, rising to 7.2 days or 1.4 weeks a year, based on five hours of teaching time a day.

Over the course of six years, a pupil would have lost 8.4 weeks of learning.

Around 55 per cent of teachers said that the presence of hungry children in the classroom can also have a negative impact on learning for the rest of the class, creating a ‘lost education’ for many pupils across the UK.

They claim that this ‘lost education’ impacts on both exam results and the future potential of pupils.

Pete Mountstephen, chair of the lobbying group National Primary Headteachers, said, ‘It’s a shocking fact that children in our classrooms across the country are missing out on the very foundations of their education by not being fed in the morning.

‘This shortfall in critical learning time could mean a child missing out on some of the essential basics taught at primary school to help their development before beginning their secondary education.’

A separate YouGov survey of 2,000 parents, commissioned by Kellogg’s, found that 12 per cent of parents who don’t give their children breakfast say it is because they don’t have time. 

More than half of respondents said they don’t have as much money to spend on food compared to last year.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, said, ‘At every turn, from school teachers to parents in the playground, we are hearing more and more reports of children going hungry at school. A toxic combination of growing poverty, the rising cost of living and troubled families with chaotic parenting means innocent children are being denied the best start to the day, and to their lives. This is unacceptable in modern Britain and must be tackled now.’

Kellogg’s says that a simple solution is school breakfast clubs. Nearly 70 per cent of teachers who were questioned for the ‘Lost Education’ report said that a breakfast club in their school has had a positive impact on their ability to teach their class.

The company, which has set up more than 1,000 breakfast clubs over the past ten years, has funded more than 660 existing and new breakfast clubs in the past year alone.

Paul Wheeler, a Kellogg’s director, said, ‘We have become more and more concerned about the effect that the vital lack of brain fuel, in the morning, is having on our children’s education.

‘Kellogg’s commissioned this important study to uncover the extent of children affected by this problem, and it’s shocking findings show that the vital work which we and our partners carry out as part of our Breakfast Club programme has become more important than ever.’

Commenting on the report, Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s shadow children’s minister, said, 'David Cameron has created a cost of living crisis, with wages down £1,500 since the election. Labour provided support for school breakfast clubs, but David Cameron scrapped the funding and is happy to see clubs lost across the country. Michael Gove should be taking action to tackle child hunger, but his comments on food banks this week show just how out of touch he is.'

  • Kellogg's is sponsor of the Nursery Food category in the Nursery World Awards 2013. For more information and to book tickets for the event on 28 September, visit our awards website
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