Eating away at poor diet and poverty

17th August 2007 at 01:00
It is a shame that signing up to the well- intentioned Primary Schools Free Breakfast Initiative has been seen by some headteachers as a way of being looked on favourably as the axe falls on schools with declining pupil numbers (see page 3). But elsewhere Professor Laurence Moore gives us a glimpse of the realities of delivering a scheme that relies heavily on the goodwill, or not in some cases, of parents.

So far this initiative has been attacked for not reaching the intended targets: young children who, through poverty or neglect, are not getting a hearty, healthy breakfast to set them up for the school day. Realists could have predicted this from day one. Meanwhile, critics slam the scheme for eating away at the education budget and increasing the burden on school staff.

But all this should not detract from the bigger picture that being the improved educational outcomes of children from deprived backgrounds. Of course, a free breakfast will not do this on its own and much more needs to be done to tackle the poverty that is rife in Wales. But if a couple of hundred more children are getting a good breakfast as a result of the scheme and the evidence suggests that there has been some take-up from the most needy then it is a step in the right direction.

Now is the time for the Assembly government to come up with more funding and some innovative ideas on how to target the children the scheme has missed. Some parents may not be willing to get up early to take their children to the breakfast clubs, but there must be a way around this. The evaluation team, who are poised to deliver their final report soon, want more funding and research to look closely at how children from deprived backgrounds can benefit.

The Assembly government is addressing these issues up to a point, but it is obvious that much more effort and cash is needed to deliver this "Utopian" scheme, which was always going to be difficult to put into practice. Let's hope this initiative does not go down in history as the costly Labour-wrapped gimmick so many would have us believe. It really would be a missed opportunity.

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