No such thing as a free breakfast

17th September 2004 at 01:00
A scheme to help Wales's poorest pupils could have hidden costs, report Felicity Waters and James Graham

Pilots of free breakfasts for primary children have got under way - but it could be November before all 47 schools trialling the scheme have breakfast clubs in place.

Meanwhile, unions, councils and some headteachers fear the scheme could put more pressure on teachers.

Although other school staff, such as lunchtime supervisors, are being drafted in to oversee clubs, organising them and reporting back to the Assembly is likely to fall to school managers.

All primary schoolchildren in Wales will be offered a healthy, free breakfast of cereals, toast and fruit juice by 2007. The aim is to improve health and concentration and give pupils a good start to the school day.

All 47 pilot schools are in deprived "community first" areas, six of them in Cardiff. Sue Eakers, head of catering at Cardiff council, welcomed the scheme in principle but said the work involved had been underestimated.

"We have had to take on extra staff and sort out all the criminal record checks. Then there's all the risk analysis and controls to avoid food poisoning outbreaks. We've also had to ask all the traffic patrol staff to start work earlier."

Jan Neil, head of Hafod y Wern junior school, Wrexham (see below) also feels the practicalities of organising clubs have proved more time-consuming than expected. "It's a marvellous idea, children do learn better if they've had a nutritional breakfast. But we need to organise the staffing and funding before we can get it up and running."

Geraint Davies, secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, said the pound;1.5 million allocated to the scheme this year could be put to far better use elsewhere in the education system, and claimed it would increase teacher workload. But an Assembly spokeswoman said detailed guidance for schools had made it clear they would need to consider who would staff the clubs, and implementation had been discussed at six regional workshops held in May and June.

She added: "Arrangements for supervision should be consistent with the aims of the national agreement on raising standards and tackling workload."

Many of the pilots will not be up and running until next month or later.

Anglesey has a start date of November 1. Geraint Elis, head of the island's educational services, said it was still discussing the level of grant per breakfast.

The Assembly government says some schools needed a longer lead time. One has postponed its club because of an impending Estyn inspection while Ysgol Emmanuel in Rhyl, Denbighshire, plans to start the week before half-term so that any problems can be dealt with in the break.

In Caerphilly, only Ysgol Y Lawnt primary has been serving the breakfasts since the start of term but more are expected to join by next week. Marcia Lewis, contracts manager for Ysgol Y Lawnt, said they fostered a social environment for children and encouraged them to eat different foods.

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