Well-fed primary finds winning way with most important meal of the day
All around the school hall, there's an air of industry and quiet content, as 50 youngsters tuck into nourishing breakfasts of cereal, toast and fruit juice. Even when the food is finished and the children begin to play games, calm and courtesy prevail.
It wasn't always so, says Karen Somerville, headteacher at St Brigid's Primary, Wishaw, which won this year's award for best breakfast club in Scotland from learning charity ContinYou.
"In an area of deprivation you get children coming to school with no breakfast at all," she says. "Then they can't do their lessons, because hunger gives them sore tummies. I had seen breakfast clubs working well in other schools in the authority, so we decided to set one up here."
Doing so was easier than it might have been, because North Lanarkshire has a full-time breakfast club supervisor, David Campbell (see box). The essentials for a good club, he says, are headteacher commitment and getting the right person to run it.
As Mrs Somerville and breakfast club supervisor Jane Poole walk around, watching the St Brigid youngsters, helping little hands, gently prompting reluctant eaters to a slice of toast and not just juice, it's obvious why this is one of the best-attended breakfast clubs - on some mornings, it attracts up to 50 per cent of the 170-pupil roll. And it's not just because of the authority-subsidised 20p a day that parents pay.
"Both my kids were pupils at this school and I'd been volunteering here for years," says Mrs Poole. "So when the job came up, I was delighted to be offered it. You have to rise at six every morning, but it's worth it to see the happy, smiling faces. I treat them all like my own kids, and the older children look after the ones who've just started school."
That's an important part of being a senior pupil, says Billy Poole. "I get up at six too, and come in with my mum. I help her set up the games and tables. Then I have my own breakfast and, because I'm P7, I help the younger ones."
Gaining house points is one reward for doing so, says Kadie McDonald (P6), but that's not her main motivation. "I'm a senior, so I need to help young ones and show them what it's going to be like here when they grow up."
Besides organising, supervising and clearing away, you have to keep thinking, says Mrs Poole. "Children get bored. So we do tumbling monkeys, Guess Who, Junior Scrabble, big board snakes and ladders, hungry hippos, wordsearches, colouring-in pictures, raffles and drawing competitions."
Filled tummies provide energy all morning for little brains and bodies, but the breakfast club also has an impact on attendance, says Mrs Somerville. "Kids who struggle to get here on time would quite often stay off school rather than come in late.
"Those same kids might still be late for the breakfast club. But that just means they miss a few games. They still get their breakfast, and they are here in plenty of time for their first class. That's a real bonus to their education."
And there are other benefits, she says: "Parents with concerns might be intimidated about arranging a meeting, but be happy to chat with me at the club. I learn a lot that way about how we can help particular children with pastoral care. It's also a chance for me to share wee gems about kids with parents."
The St Brigid breakfast club has huge educational merits, says Mrs Somerville, but it also appeals to the mother in her. "At Christmas-time it's one of those lovely pictures in your head, with the crib out in the foyer, the lights all on, and children coming in out of the cold and getting warm and fed."
North Lanarkshire also netted two other awards - one for the UK local authority that "has done most to support and develop breakfast clubs", the other to Mary Main, an additional support needs assistant at St Bernadette's Primary. She is UK breakfast club champion of the year.
School and champion receive pound;1,500 and pound;2,000 to spend on their breakfast clubs, while North Lanarkshire gets a year's supply of breakfast cereal for 10 clubs.
Breakfast Club Plus Awards 2010 www.continyou.org.ukhealth_and_well_beingbreakfast_club_plus
BIG ON BREAKFAST
It began 10 years ago with one club at one school. "The council soon recognised the benefits - kids on time, well fed, able to think and ready to learn," says North Lanarkshire breakfast club co-ordinator David Campbell. "So they bought into it big-time."
He was appointed in 2004 to extend the initiative beyond the dozen clubs which existed then. There are now 81 breakfast clubs in primary schools in North Lanarkshire.
The wider community gains as well as the children, says Mr Campbell, a former chef. "I've had lots of parents saying they were able to take on a college course now, because they know wee Jimmy's safe from 8am every day."
A guide for schools has been prepared, covering everything from exploring the need to hiring the supervisor. A magazine is published regularly, showcasing good practice, and radio sets have been given to all clubs, enabling them to take part in breakfast-time competitions on local radio.
Public services are facing tough times, so there must be some concerns for the future of breakfast clubs in North Lanarkshire, but Mr Campbell is cautiously optimistic. "They are such a benefit to the children and the community," he says.