4th September, 2019.

Policy Roundtable on Improving Educational Outcomes for Disadvantaged Children through the Provision of Free School Breakfasts

We were delighted to launch our Policy Report "Making the Case for School Breakfasts: Improved Educational and Health Outcomes for Children" at the Palace of Westminster this morning.  

On a very busy day in Parliament, The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan, MP, (a former Secretary of State for Education, who has championed the case for school breakfasts) co-hosted a round-table breakfast discussion, with Alan Mak, MP, former Magic Breakfast President and Trustee. The aim of the round-table was to put compelling evidence before parliamentarians of the urgent need for, and overwhelmingly positive impact of, nutritious school breakfasts.

Magic Breakfast's Founder, Carmel McConnell, MBE, told the story of how she had come to set up the charity, welcomed news of increased spending for schools in the Spending Round, and called on Government to back funding for school breakfasts in the Queen's Speech: "Every child is precious and deserves their chance to learn regardless of what is going on at home. Sadly 1.8 million school age children live in food insecure homes. We are asking for all party support – we want a legislative commitment to school breakfast provision. Teachers can then get on with what they do best. Education is the engine room. Children being nourished is a priority".

Dr Katie Adolphus, Research Fellow at the Human Appetite Research Unit, University of Leeds, said there was a wealth of empirical evidence showing a positive link between eating breakfast and cognitive function in children: "In 2016 we undertook a large randomised controlled trial among disadvantaged 11-13 year old British adolescents, most of whom were eligible for free school meals. We found that the potential for breakfasts to have an impact upon cognitive performance appears to be more pronounced in undernourished children". 

Further evidence of the positive effects of eating a healthy breakfast on educational attainment came from Dr Hannah Littlecott of Cardiff University who had studied outcomes from the Welsh Government's school breakfast programme. Nicky Dennison of Blackpool Council explained why the Council had decided to provide school breakfasts to primary pupils in Blackpool, and spoke of her worries over the continuation of the scheme, due to tight budgets. 

Sam Bailey, Executive Head Teacher of Forest Academy, Barnsley (one of Magic Breakfast's partner schools) then spoke powerfully about how introducing breakfast to all pupils in 2014, had very quickly transformed her school community: "Forest Academy is in a very disadvantaged area. The lives of most of our children are chaos, we see the stark face of poverty. When I came to the school the speech and language deprivation was very acute. There was a lot of poor mental health in the community, low aspirations of parents and a great deal of ill health. I arrived in 2014 and for the first 6 weeks we didn’t have Magic Breakfast. In the previous year there had been 4,000 late arrivals, but Magic Breakfast had an incredible impact. Late arrivals over the last year were down by 3,500. The community has changed. Bagels have brought light into Kendray".

One of Magic Breakfast's key recommendations to Government is that they commit to renewing funding for the National School Programme (NSBP), which is reaching well over 280,000 school children with a healthy breakfast, but which is due to end in March 2020. The NSBP is funded by the Department for Education, with revenue from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (aka Sugar Tax), and is being delivered by Family Action and Magic Breakfast. David Holmes, CBE, Chief Executive of Family Action, made a compelling case for why funding for the Programme must continue: "The take-up has been extraordinary. We know the difference it is making. We know we are reaching the most vulnerable children. To make breakfast provision sustainable in schools this programme has to continue".

Magic Breakfast was pleased to have cross-party support at the round-table event, with the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner MP and Mary Creagh MP among those from the Labour party lending their voice to the call for a permanent solution to classroom hunger in the morning. 

Wrapping up proceedings, Carmel McConnell told a heartbreaking story about a child she had heard about recently who was repeatedly arriving at school with blue stained fingers. The child wouldn’t say where the blue had come from and it was only when their home was visited that it was discovered that there was no food there, and the child had been so hungry that they had been eating the blue bait from mousetraps. Carmel said: "I’ve never seen hunger at this level. The moral case is there, we must engage with it".

To read our policy report, please CLICK HERE

David Holmes, CBE; Rt Hon Nicky Morgan, MP; Carmel McConnell, MBE