Breakfast clubs that offer pupils in primary schools a free and nutritious meal before school can boost their reading, writing and maths results by the equivalent of two months’ progress over the course of a year, according to the results of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today.
106 English primary schools with higher than average numbers of disadvantaged pupils took part in the trial, which was delivered by the charity Magic Breakfast. Over the course of an academic year, parents of around 8,600 pupils were encouraged to send their child to free breakfast clubs before registration. The children were able to choose between cereals, wheat biscuits, porridge and bagels.
The independent evaluation by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Children’s Bureau found that Year 2 children in schools with a breakfast club made two additional months’ progress in reading, writing and maths compared with a similar group whose schools were not given support to offer breakfast.
The evaluators reported that the pupils’ concentration and behaviour improved too. This suggests that breakfast clubs provide an opportunity to improve outcomes for all children, not just those who actually attend, by creating better classroom environments. The impact for Year 6 pupils was slightly smaller but still promising.
The results suggest that for pupils in relatively disadvantaged schools it is attending the breakfast club, not just eating breakfast, which leads to academic improvements. This could be due to the nutritional benefits of the breakfast itself, or the social or educational benefits of the breakfast club environment.
The 2013 School Food Plan recommended breakfast clubs should be set up in schools with the highest levels of deprivation. This evaluation suggests there might be benefits to an expansion of the policy using a free, universal and before-school model - and that this is something that schools should also consider in terms of their own spending priorities.
Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:
“The fact that there are children that will go to school hungry today is a national scandal. Offering free breakfasts at school is a relatively cheap and straightforward way of alleviating this symptom of disadvantage. Many schools across the country already offer some sort of breakfast provision.
“That’s why the findings from today’s evaluation report are so encouraging. Not only does a good breakfast provide all young people with a nutritious start to the day, but well-run breakfast clubs have the potential to boost attainment and behaviour too.
“The government has committed to spending £10m a year on healthy breakfast clubs, as part of their plan to tackle childhood obesity. They, and school leaders more generally, should consider using a free, universal and before-school model to benefit attainment as well.”
Amy Edwards, Research and Policy Analyst at NCB, said:
“Our research emphasises the importance of 3 key things schools could consider when setting up breakfast provision: getting the whole school on board with providing breakfast; designing a breakfast offer that minimises the overall burden on staff; and being proactive about encouraging children to take up the breakfast offer – by making it easy to access, free, and offering healthy nutritious food that they like.”
Carmel McConnell, founder and Chief Executive of Magic Breakfast, said:
“This important, independent research shows a significant boost to attainment resulting directly from Magic Breakfast provision. If we as a nation are serious about tackling educational underachievement, this evidence shows the Magic Breakfast model of low or no cost nutritious school breakfasts, with the targeting of those most in need, really works. It's time to embed this approach and gain that same classroom success for every vulnerable child.”
To read the full report click here.