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The Power of Free School Breakfasts

Date published: Date modified: 2022-04-19

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day and now there’s evidence to support the belief. Offering pupils cereal, porridge and fruit may hold the key to improving their behaviour and grades as well as giving them a healthier lifestyle.

The government initially invested in breakfast clubs to tackle childhood obesity in disadvantaged areas, but it has now been proved that the project is helping children improve their grades in:
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Maths

What’s more, it’s making a difference at a reduced cost. That’s good news for smaller schools that are losing up to £4,000 a year by providing free school lunches.

Healthy body, healthy mind

The government has now dedicated £10 million a year towards producing healthy breakfast clubs for schools in disadvantaged areas.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) conducted research into the impact of the clubs on these schools, and made some surprising discoveries; not only do pupils behave better, but their literacy and maths skills are also improved. The results from this research showed:

  • The most significant improvement was in children between the ages of 6 and 7.
  • Children between the ages of 10 and 11 showed minor improvements.
  • Children who aren’t present in the club also benefit because of the increased level of attention and behaviour shown by the breakfast club attendees.

Better outcomes at a lower cost

Those who have challenged the idea of the universal infant free school meal programme claim that breakfast clubs present similar or better outcomes at a portion of the price. Studies show that:

  • The breakfast club produces an environment that’s conducive to a higher level of learning.
  • The children appear happy, more engaged and interested in the teaching.
  • What’s more, they have extra time for social interaction at the start of the day, decreasing the urge to talk and be distracted in class.

The IFS stated that in the schools that took part, every year group showed significant improvements, raising the academic standards for the school. Children in Year 2 received the greatest benefits, appearing to gain the equivalent of two additional months.

Achieve a healthy learning environment

However, before we get too excited, it’s worth bearing in mind that in the later years, the only improvement appeared to be in the children’s writing, with their reading and maths skills showing little to no significant improvement. 

This suggests that the free school breakfasts scheme increases the grades and social interaction of the pupils, but predominantly within the younger years. However, if this improvement builds as these children move up through the school then, the standards – and attainment levels – will also continue to improve.

Ultimately then, the free breakfast club scheme appears to deliver healthy learning environments, increasing children’s ability to concentrate as well as refining their standards of behaviour.

If your school has more than 35% of pupils eligible for free school meals, then you can apply for funding from the school breakfast charity, Magic Breakfast. Click here to learn more.

By Andi Brown
SAAF Education 340 110

17 January 2017



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