Tears as free breakfasts arrive in schools

Scheme to combat pupil hunger provokes emotional reaction as pupils given chance to eat before lessons

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The sobs of relief were unexpected.

When Rachael Anderson, of the National School Breakfast Programme, started contacting headteachers about providing free breakfasts to children, she had not realised the profound impact her offer would have.

But several heads burst into tears at the news.

“It seems we are in a time right now of particularly high need, and schools are acutely aware of it,” said Ms Anderson. “I think it was the opportunity to do something about it very quickly… and reach every hungry child in school, that evoked such an emotional response.”

The Department for Education announced in March that it was putting £26 million into breakfast clubs for more than 1,770 schools in the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

Now two charities, Magic Breakfast and Family Action, are contacting schools to offer them help in setting up schemes under the National School Breakfast Programme.

One of those schools is Causeway Green primary in Oldbury, where headteacher Julia Shingler explained the difference it would make to her pupils.

“I know that some of our children, if they have breakfast, just have sweets or other inappropriate food,” Ms Shingler said – admitting that she was one of the headteachers who welled up when they were contacted by Magic Breakfast.

“They are hungry and at last, with this, we have something to fill their tummies up - which will be good for them.

“I was quite overwhelmed,” she added. “I had filled in an online application form, but hadn’t heard for quite a while. So when I got the phone call saying we were able to have a free breakfast for all the children, yes, I cried.

"Just because so many children I know come to school hungry and having breakfast will affect their behaviour and their concentration. It is a really positive thing.”

The school, where around half of the 470 pupils are eligible for pupil premium funding, already has a paid-for breakfast club, which is used mostly by working parents who need childcare.

The new scheme will involve giving every child a bagel as they arrive in the morning. The children will be able to eat it during their settling-in time before lessons begin.

The school had a grant of £500 to pay for freezers. The food is provided by the charity, but the extra staffing costs (“There will be a lot of buttering bagels,” Ms Shingler said) have to be found by the school.

Ms Anderson said that there are a number of different breakfast club models for schools to take into account the differences in staffing, premises, equipment and numbers of pupils.

Although the charities have a list of schools which are eligible for free breakfasts, Ms Anderson urged any schools which think they may be eligible to get in touch.

“It is helpful for us to get expressions of interest,” she said. “We can tell the DfE about schools which have asked for support which are not on the list.”

Earlier this year, the Tes revealed that more and more children were coming to school ill-equipped for learning because they were not getting enough to eat at home, with a snap online poll showing that 90 per cent of teachers had provided food for hungry pupils themselves.

 

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