The Department for Education has announced an expansion of its breakfast club programme to support disadvantaged children.
The £10 million a year scheme to expand the provision in up to 1,600 schools will focus on supporting disadvantaged pupils, families, schools and areas.
The DfE’s original programme ran from October 2014 to March 2016 and involved setting up a sustainable breakfast club in schools where more than 35 per cent of pupils were eligible for free meals.
A tender exercise for the expansion programme will launch this autumn.
An evaluation of the programme found clubs reduced children’s hunger and improved their concentration and behaviour.
The news that the scheme is being expanded follows research by Kellogg’s which found that more than 6,000 school breakfast clubs are expected to close in the next few years, affecting around 200,000 children, including those in the most deprived parts of the country.
The main reason for the closure of clubs cited by the teachers surveyed was inadequate school funding, followed by the need for extra staff and cuts to specific breakfast club funding.
Meanwhile, charity Magic Breakfast, which helps schools with deprived pupils to set up clubs, reports that it has a record number of schools on its waiting list at 300. It currently works with 470 schools.
SCHOOL BREAKFAST CLUB PROGRAMME
Magic Breakfast was contracted by the DfE to recruit 184 schools to the original programme. The criteria were that 35 per cent of the school’s pupils were eligible for free meals; and it did not have existing breakfast club provision.
The aim was to help schools set up ‘self-sustaining’ provision.
Part of Magic Breakfast’s role was to also provide the schools with advice and support, along with organising free food deliveries for 12 months. On top of this, schools could apply for grants of £300 to buy equipment.
Of the 184 schools that took part in the programme, the majority (63 per cent) were primary schools.
The evaluation of the programme, published in March, found that most schools wanted to start a club because children were coming to school hungry, affecting their concentration and behaviour in the mornings, as well as their ability to learn.
The majority of clubs were open to all children, but schools tended to give preference to those eligible for free school meals.
Most schools did not charge pupils for breakfast, and none charged pupils eligible for free school meals. Of those that did charge, the maximum they asked parents for was 50p a day. A few schools asked for voluntary contributions.
The food served at the schools’ breakfast clubs included bagels, cereal, juice, porridge and fruit. In most schools, staff working in breakfast clubs were teaching assistants. To meet staff costs, schools were taking from existing budgets by changing hours within existing contracts so they were no additional costs.
The evaluation found generally high levels of high attendance at breakfast clubs, particularly those within primary schools. On average, the majority of pupils eligible for free school meals attended the provision.
Schools reported the following benefits of a breakfast club:
- A reduction in the number of pupils being hungry, and pupils eating more healthily.
- Improved concentration and behaviour because children were not hungry and were therefore ready to learn.
- Helping pupils develop new friendship groups.
- Boosting the confidence of pupils with lower self-confidence.
- Supporting children’s learning in special schools.
According to the evaluation, nearly all the schools have continued to run a breakfast club since the end of the DfE’s programme, with most joining Magic Breakfast’s new membership scheme. This offers as much free food as each school needs, plus support from the charity's staff, for an annual fee, which the schools could transfer to following the end of the free service provided by the programme.
Carmel McConnell (pictured right), founder of Magic Breakfast, said, ‘The way it works with the membership scheme is that schools come on for a free programme for 24 months. After two years, if they can do it, they pay for membership. The cost of membership is from £500 a year. By charging schools, it is a way for us to continue to provide a high level of support.’
Many schools in the DfE programme reported concerns over the cost of running a club as a barrier to continuing to offer the provision. This was both in terms of staff time in running the club each day and in sourcing and organising food deliveries. The introduction of Magic Breakfast’s membership scheme, at the end of the programme, helped to reduce these concerns, says the evaluation.
Ms McConnell added, ‘Millions of children are arriving at school hungry in this country.
‘Between us and the schools we support, we try and reach all children and provide them with a healthy breakfast, which makes them feel good about themselves and means they are ready to learn.
‘We need a national strategy for school breakfast, just as we do for lunches. We need permanent investment to make sure no child goes hungry. It costs us just 22p [a day] to feed a child breakfast; that’s the equivalent of around £4 a month, the price of a latte.’
Ms McConnell urged any schools that are struggling to run breakfast club provision to get in touch with the charity.
The Forest Academy, Barnsley
Porridge and scrambled eggs (made by the head with ‘three bowls and a microwave’) are firm favourites on the menu at the breakfast club at Forest Academy.
The primary school on the Kendray estate in Barnsley started a breakfast club in 2014, with the support of Magic Breakfast.
New head teacher Sam Bailey sent personal invitations to every family to bring all the children in for breakfast for ‘a warmer, more welcoming start to the day’, and 170 of the 220 children attended in the first week. Attendance over the year was around 140 children a day.
Doors open at 8am and for 40 minutes children arrive at a steady rate to eat breakfast, followed by craft activities, construction toys and a game of table football. From 8.30, children can go to their classrooms to use iPads and other electronic devices for ‘booster learning’ in maths and literacy.
The head believes offering breakfast has had a major impact on children’s attainment and well-being. There has been a big reduction in lateness, and children are settled in their classes and ready to learn. Relationships have improved between staff, children and parent volunteers; behavioural incidents have decreased significantly. Ms Bailey also believes the breakfast club and related activities played a significant role in improving SATs results in 2015, a year after the club was introduced.
Key Stage 2 results went up from 33 per cent to 83 per cent. ‘At Key Stage 1, we achieved an 85 per cent Year 1 phonics pass rate (up from 40 per cent), and in Year 2 we had not far off 80 per cent reading, writing and maths, compared with the previous year’s 50 per cent.
‘It was an incredible year. We must be a great case study for 1,000 good reasons to have a breakfast club,’ Ms Bailey says.