For 6 per cent of all children aged 8-16, the school day starts
on an empty stomach. Even more alarmingly, the percentage of
children from socially disadvantaged families missing breakfast is
double that of children from professional families and in some
inner city areas up to a third of all children skip
Research indicates that eating breakfast has numerous benefits for
children, both in terms of nutrition and their ability to learn, so
it is clear that any move to tackle social exclusion and meet
health and education targets needs to look at breakfast
The solution for an increasing number of schools is to set up their
own breakfast clubs where a variety of food and drink are provided
and where children have the chance to socialise with classmates
before school and perhaps catch up on studies or take part in other
Statistics on the number of breakfast clubs in existence are hard
to come by. Neither the Department for Education and Skills or the
Department of Health collect such data.
But Education Extra, a national charity for out-of-school learning,
puts the figure at well over 1,000 breakfast clubs now in operation
and hundreds more in the process of being set-up.
Cash for setting up and running breakfast clubs comes from a
variety of statutory sources including Excellence in Cities, The
New Opportunities Fund, Health Action Zones, Education Action Zones
and the Children’s Fund.
Funding is also available from charitable sources such as Education
Extra’s Breakfast Club Awards which are sponsored by
Breakfast clubs are operated in a variety of ways. Many are on
school premises and are run by school staff but others are held in
community centres or are supervised by volunteers and
Two-thirds of the clubs charge children for food – the other third
provide it free. Of those that do charge, the rate is typically 30p
to 60p per day and many clubs that charge provide some free places
for targeted children.
Research into breakfast clubs point to a wide range of benefits for
children, teachers and busy parents who can drop children off on
their way into work.
A report by Kids Clubs Network and the New Policy
Institute2 shows that breakfast clubs may improve
children’s cognition, attendance and classroom behaviour. In
particular, the report finds that eating breakfast improves
children’s problem-solving, memory, visual perception and creative
Clubs may also have a serious contribution to make in tackling a
range of current areas of concern including poor long-term health
prospects for disadvantaged children, social isolation and bullying
and poor attendance.
Further evidence of the value of breakfast clubs comes from an
evaluation carried out by the University of East Anglia3
of 250 breakfast clubs allocated funding under a DoH pilot scheme.
The evaluation found evidence that there was a high incidence of
breakfast club use among those families with a parent who reported
experiencing “marked” or “high” levels of emotional stress and that
children with high levels of overall difficulties were more likely
to have attended a breakfast club than those children
But while several schools involved in the scheme highlighted
behavioural improvement as an observed benefit, this outcome was
not universal. Teaching staff at several other schools suggested
that children had become less well-behaved or more energetic as a
result of attending breakfast clubs and could therefore be more
difficult to control in the classroom.
Equally, concerns have been raised that while some schools have
maintained a healthy fare, others, especially those who have been
keen to offer children a say in the running of the clubs, have
resorted to providing food and drink high in fat and sugar in an
effort to encourage more children to attend.
But despite a few reservations, the consensus remains that
breakfast clubs are a good thing for children’s health and
education. So should the government go a step further and require
all schools to set one up?
Andrew Harrop, a researcher at the New Policy Institute, which has
carried out several studies of breakfast clubs, doubts whether that
is a realistic proposition. “The ideal would be that there would be
a breakfast club in every school. The problem with that approach is
that the government has got into trouble in the past for being too
prescriptive. If it said every school must have a breakfast club
and have ring-fenced funding for it, heads would say they were not
being given the freedom to run their own school. We want to have
widespread funding available but it can’t be compulsory.”
If that funding continues to be available it seems the number of
breakfast clubs will multiply and the days of children turning up
for lessons with empty stomachs could be numbered.
1 Breakfast Club Awards Scheme details
Fit For School: How Breakfast Clubs Meet
Health, Education and Childcare Needs, New Policy Institute
and Kids Club Network, 1999,
National Evaluation of School Breakfast
Clubs, University of East Anglia,
Porridge off the menu
It’s 7.30am and the first pupils are arriving at Whalley Range
High School for Girls in Manchester. It may be the last day of term
and a non-uniform day at that, but the promise of a tasty bite to
eat and the chance to catch up on gossip with friends and watch
breakfast TV is enough to get these girls into school well before
the start of the first lesson.
The breakfast club, based in the school’s Range Restaurant, has
proved a big success since it was launched two years ago. It is one
of a raft of measures brought in by headteacher Dame Jean Else to
boost attendance and create an environment which attracts pupils
She explains: “The breakfast club gets some of the pupils, who
perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be so keen, out of bed and into school.
We’ve got an attendance record of 95 per cent, which puts us into
the top 2 per cent in the country, a real achievement for an inner
“We pride ourselves on being the home of excellence and for our
pupils this is their second home. The breakfast club is just one of
the strategies which makes them see school as a warm, welcoming
The Early Bytes menu includes cereal and milk at 40p, fresh
fruit at 25p as well as the top seller, chocolate croissants at
40p. Theresa Lynch, environment and hospitality manager at the
school, says providing what the girls want to eat is vitally
“We have cereal and milk on the menu but most of the girls would
rather have a cereal bar which is why we started stocking them.
They are now one of our best sellers.”
Pupils have their identity cards swiped when they make a
purchase, which helps staff with the ordering process and allows
parents to check up on what their children have been eating.
Staff at the school have noted that pupils who attend the
breakfast club tend to settle more quickly into the classroom
because they have already had a chat with their friends.
And the pupils themselves are in no doubt that it is a good
idea. Samina Akram, aged 11, says: “At home I never have time for
breakfast so it’s good to come in here and have it with my
Amy Dempsey, aged 14, says: “I wouldn’t have breakfast at home.
It’s nicer here than at home because I can chat with my friends.
Having breakfast definitely helps me to concentrate during the
day.” Education secretary Estelle Morris, a former pupil at the
school, would no doubt approve of the club’s positive impact.
Though Else, who used to be her PE teacher, isn’t letting on as
to whether her most famous former pupil would have been first in
line for the chocolate croissants.