Two-fifths of 13- and 14-year-olds regularly skip breakfast on school days, with girls and pupils from poor homes most likely to miss the first meal of the day, a major government study shows.
More than one in 10 children (15 per cent) “never” eat breakfast during a typical school week, according to interviews with a representative sample of 13,100 Year 9s in England.
A previous survey of teachers found that children who arrived at school hungry were more likely to be tired, unable to concentrate in lessons and badly behaved.
The problem is worse among girls and more deprived teenagers, the Department for Education’s second Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) reveals.
Another study, in 2013, calculated that, in the worse cases, pupils who skipped breakfast could be missing out on the equivalent of eight weeks of primary school learning time a year, owing to frequent hunger and its side effects.
The latest LSYPE figures suggest the problem may be more widespread than previously thought, showing that only 60 per cent of the 13- and 14-year-olds surveyed ate breakfast every school day.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is worrying because, if pupils don’t come to school having had a proper meal at the beginning of the day, then it does affect their concentration and their ability to learn effectively.
“In my own experience as a head, there were young people who were not given breakfast at home and would end up consuming something inappropriate such as energy drinks on the way in.”
Mr Lightman said that was why “most” schools now offered some kind of breakfast service.
Parental apathy or lack of time, pupils rejecting food in the morning and financial hardship have all previously been cited as factors behind missed breakfasts.
The DfE study shows that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of the teenagers eligible for free school meals never ate breakfast during a typical school week, compared with 14 per cent of the rest of the students.
There is also a big gender gap, with two-thirds of boys saying they ate breakfast every school day, compared with just over half (54 per cent) of girls.
In Wales, all local authorities must now, by law, provide a free breakfast to all pupils in state primaries that have requested them.
In England, Blackpool Council has offered all its primary school children free breakfasts and milk in an attempt to improve their health.
But there has been no national breakfast scheme, and the Westminster government’s policy of providing free school lunches to all infant pupils in England has proved controversial.
Teachers are feeding hungry pupils, survey reveals – 19 April 2014