Why school breakfast clubs are on the education frontline

September 13, 2020 – 12:38 am
Breakfast at Keyworth primary in Kennington, south LondonBreakfast at Keyworth primary in Kennington, south London. Photograph: Richard Saker for Observer Food Monthly Richard Saker

It's 8 o'clock on a bright morning at the end of the summer term just gone and at Kingsmead primary school in Hackney the staff are preparing to perform one of their core tasks. Not teaching their pupils to add up. Not teaching them how to read, or all the cool stuff about Egyptian mummies and the pharaohs. They are preparing to give them breakfast. "You can't have good learning if the children are not ready to learn, " says head teacher Louise Nichols, and she knows what she's talking about. She knows that without their daily breakfast club, dozens of the children in her inner city school would be coming to school hungry. And she knows that because it's what used to happen.

Children at Kingsmead Primary School in Homerton, east London at their breakfast clubKingsmead is in an area that is among the 4% most deprived in Britain. Around a third of the children come because their parents' working hours make it difficult for them to get breakfast at home. But many more come because there simply isn't breakfast to be had at home. "There's a lot of chaotic households, and some very large families, " Nichols says, in the pause before breakfast starts. "A lot of our children will be getting themselves up from a very young age and not necessarily seeing an adult. We give some of them alarm clocks to help them get up." And then there are those adults who simply don't have the money to feed their kids. "The community is definitely getting poorer, " she says. There are more and more hungry children needing feeding, more and more breakfasts to be served.

Children at Keyworth Primary School breakfast clubAs the new school year gets under way, Louise Nichols's experience is being confirmed by data from across the country. In a recent survey from the Guardian Teacher Network, 83% of teachers said they were seeing pupils who were coming to school hungry; 55% said up to a quarter of their kids were turning up having not eaten enough. Almost 50% admitted they had bought food with their own money to give to pupils. Teachers talk about children fainting in class or in the playground; about children whose behaviour is so erratic they have considered excluding them, until they discovered they were simply hungry.Carmel McConnell They talk about anxious or fretful children who can't put a name to what is troubling them, because they are too hungry to focus on the problem.

What's more, as changes to the benefits rules kick in and the recession deepens, organisations involved with breakfast clubs are saying the problems are only worsening, that demand is rising. It is estimated that there have been as many as 20, 000 such clubs nationwide, but those supported by local authorities are now seeing their funding cut, and just as that demand is rising many are being forced to close. Last spring the Royal College of GPs, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health all called on the government to give the 1.3 million children in England already entitled to free school meals, free breakfasts too, as they are in Wales. It's not going to happen; ministers have said they have no plans to pursue the proposals. Teachers may give a damn about children going to school hungry. Charities may care. But apparently Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, does not.

Children at Kingsmead Primary School in Homerton, east London at their breakfast club. Photograph: Richard Saker

Source: www.theguardian.com

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