Unprecedented numbers of schools are turning to charities for "food aid" in order to run breakfast clubs for their most vulnerable pupils, TES has learned.
Teachers are struggling to meet the costs of offering breakfast to pupils because of pressure on budgets and an increase in demand from children whose families have been affected by the recession, charities report. Figures suggest that more than 3,000 clubs closed last year.
Magic Breakfast, which supports more than 200 breakfast clubs in primaries in England, said that the number of schools on its waiting list for "food aid" had quadrupled in the past three months.
Kellogg's, which launched a campaign at the end of last year to support breakfast clubs, said that 1,500 schools had applied for about 500 food grants worth pound;450 each. The campaign was initially launched after the company said it had been inundated with telephone calls from schools requesting support because of "school budgets getting tighter".
It costs a school approximately pound;10,000 a year to run a breakfast club for up to 50 children, with pound;6,000 being spent on staffing costs and pound;4,000 on food. Schools often ask for a contribution from parents to help cover their costs, but concerns have been raised about increasing numbers of families being unable to pay.
"We usually have 15 to 20 breakfast clubs on our waiting list," said Carmel McConnell, founder of Magic Breakfast, which provides free food to schools to give to pupils. "The volume has gone up drastically to 80 in the past three months. The fact that schools are applying to us for emergency food aid is shocking.
"As the recession is hitting, we are seeing more financial hardship in families and more families that are relying on breakfast clubs as a way of feeding their children."
Ms McConnell said she expected to see a huge increase in the number of schools seeking the charity's help over the course of the year. "We are bracing ourselves and thinking how we are going to support a much bigger number," she said.
Breakfast clubs have been praised for improving behaviour and concentration levels among children who would otherwise not eat properly before starting school.
Hugh Myddelton Primary School in Islington, London, is one of those on the Magic Breakfast waiting list. It has seen an increase in the number of children turning up to school hungry.
"Some of our children are coming to school without a decent breakfast, maybe walking in late with a packet of crisps," said Karen Jacobs, the extended school coordinator at Hugh Myddelton. "We encourage their parents to send them to breakfast club but sometimes the cost can put some parents off. We would like to be able to offer more children a free breakfast - no child should start the day hungry."
Anthony Kirkbride, program development coordinator at ContinYou, which offers training to schools wanting to run breakfast clubs, said the charity had been contacted by 200 schools in the past year, up 25 per cent on the previous year.
"They are important for youngsters from various backgrounds," he said. "There are those kids who come from functioning homes, where food is available, and still come early to school and socialise. That is just as important - the social interaction for young people in the morning."
Over the past eight years, the Welsh government has run the Primary School Free Breakfast Initiative, which offers every primary school in Wales the support, if required, to provide all children with a free breakfast.
The scheme was set up to improve the concentration and health of primary-aged children, and to offer breakfast to those who may not be fed at home.
Photo: Something to chew on: The charity Magic Breakfast said the number of schools on its waiting list for help has quadrupled in the past three months. Credit: Anna Gordon
Original headline: Breakfast clubs are forced to ask for a slice of `food aid'