Warning over reach of new school breakfasts plan

Suppliers could end up providing schools with 'as little food as possible' under breakfast scheme, says former provider

Catherine Lough

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A former provider of the National School Breakfast Programme has raised concerns that the quality and quantity of food will be compromised under the new scheme announced by the Department for Education today.

The DfE confirmed this morning that Family Action will be its delivery partner for the programme over the next two academic years, but that schools will only receive a 100 per cent subsidy to run breakfast clubs until next March.

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After March, the subsidy will be reduced to 75 per cent, with schools contributing the remainder of the costs. 

The DfE has said it will put forward £24 million to extend the programme until July 2023.

But Magic Breakfast, a former provider of the programme working in partnership with Family Action, said it did not bid for the DfE tender to extend the scheme over concerns that the quality of provision would be compromised.

'Perverse incentive' in school breakfast club scheme

Alysa Remtulla, head of policy and campaigns at Magic Breakfast, told Tes: "We looked at the tender specification when it was published online through the normal procurement processes, and our reading of [it] was that it wasn’t designed in a way that allowed us to meet our charitable mission, which is to ensure that no child is too hungry to learn."

She said that there was a fixed amount of money provided by the DfE – £24 million over the next two years – while suppliers were being encouraged to reach as many schools as possible, which could lead to compromises on quality.

"The way the tender is structured, it’s a fixed amount of money but the supplier is asked to maximise the number of schools that they reach and we felt that that creates a perverse incentive to provide as little as possible to each of the schools," she said.

"You’re being asked to reach as many schools as possible but with this fixed pot of money – we felt that that would lead to compromises in terms of the quality of food you could provide, or the number of children you reached per school.

"With the National School Breakfast Programme, we were encouraging schools to feed every child at risk of hunger and, in many cases, taking a universal approach to reach all children, whereas this tender seems to have the exact opposite kind of purpose, and we felt that schools themselves would be discouraged from making big orders and trying to think ambitiously about how to tackle classroom hunger because they were paying for part of the food as well.

"The incentives are all wrong. As a supplier, you want to keep your costs as low as possible and reach as many schools as you can, so the incentive there is to provide as little food per school as possible."

Ms Remtulla said that whilst Magic Breakfast had not seen the published contract between Family Action and the DfE, the tender specification suggested "a real lack of focus on hunger".

"The word 'hunger' wasn’t actually mentioned anywhere in the tender specification, and neither was the importance of reaching children at risk of hunger, so we felt like there wasn’t sufficient clarity for schools or for the supplier in terms of what kind of problem they’re being asked to address," she said.

"We were concerned that the benefits of school breakfasts won’t necessarily be realised if the children who are accessing the breakfasts aren’t the children at risk of hunger – we just didn’t feel that was coming through in DfE’s stated policy objectives at all," she added.

Ms Remtulla said that, in the past, funding was provided not only to deliver food to schools but also to fund school partners – members of staff who worked with the school to ensure that breakfast clubs were set up to be "stigma-free".

"Our experience is that if you just deliver it to a school and hope that the right children end up eating it, that’s not enough. So we were concerned that the tender had swung too closely to just food supply only, rather than food supply plus expert advice and support for schools to make the most of it," she said.

Ms Remtulla said that the 75 per cent subsidy being offered from March next year was not enough and that Magic Breakfast had concerns over a lack of provision for accountability or monitoring of how the programme was delivered in schools.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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