Free school breakfast clubs boost maths and literacy results, study finds
Providing free breakfast clubs for primary schools in disadvantaged areas boosted maths and literacy results even among those pupils who didn’t attend, according to new research.
The findings suggest that government funding of universal free lunches for children in infant school in England may be more productive – and more cost-effective – if spent on breakfasts clubs instead.
Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Educational Endowment Foundation which supported the work, said: “The government has committed to spending £10m a year on healthy breakfast clubs, as part of their plan to tackle childhood obesity. They should consider using a free, universal and before-school model to benefit attainment as well.”
The work, evaluated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, looked at free breakfasts provided at schools before the start of teaching, and found strong improvementsin writing, reading and maths for pupils in year two, aged six and seven.
The research also found similar, but less prominent improvements in writing for pupils in year six, aged 10 and 11.
The findings were based on the results from 106 primary schools in disadvantaged regions, which offered children a choice of cereals, porridge and bagels.
Sam Bailey, the head teacher of the Forest Academy in Barnsley, was an enthusiastic supporter of the scheme, saying it produced a “positive effect” within the entire school.
“Pupil behaviour has improved dramatically and attitudes to learning are the best they have ever been,” Bailey said. “Academic standards have been raised too and we’ve seen significant improvements in every year group.”
Andy Jolley, a campaigner who has challenged the government’s universal infant free school meal (UIFSM) programme, said: “Breakfast clubs seem to offer similar or better outcomes than UIFSM but for a fraction of the price. It’s time the government looked into the benefits of UIFSM to see if it really offers value for money.”
The IFS researchers noted that the positive benefits extended to children who didn’t even go to the pre-school clubs, thanks to improved concentration and behaviour by those who did.
“This finding is interesting because it shows that breakfast clubs provide an opportunity to improve outcomes for children who do not actually attend breakfast club, through better classroom environments,” the IFS said.
Collins said: “That’s why the findings 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.”
Even among those who did attend, breakfast alone may not have been the main reason behind the improvements.
“The findings suggest that it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements, but attending a breakfast club. This could be due to the nutritional content of the breakfast itself, or the social or educational benefits of the breakfast club environment,” the IFS said.
In schools that took part, year two children gained the equivalent of two months’ additional progress, which the IFS said was “roughly equal to the effect of providing universal free school meals in two pilot areas in 2011 which led to the national roll-out of that programme for infants.”
For year six children, similar improvements were seen in writing, but there was no significant boost in reading and maths._ The Guardian
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