Blackpool free breakfast scheme deemed a success
"School Breakfast is already having a significant positive effect on children’s breakfast habits.”
That’s the message from researchers who have evaluated Blackpool Council’s free school breakfast pilot.
Since January 2013 all Blackpool primary school children have been entitled to free breakfast and milk under a scheme to improve the health and well-being of the town’s young residents.
In excess of 11,000 breakfasts have been delivered daily in 33 schools, with children having the opportunity to have a drink and two items from a selection of in the main, malt loaf, bagels - plain and cinnamon, fruit, chopped fruit, raisins, yoghurt and smoothies. Some schools have also chosen toast and cereal on certain days.
The impact of the scheme on the health, wellbeing and educational engagement of pupils has been evaluated by a team of developmental psychologists, health psychologists, nutritionists and statisticians from Northumbria University.
Dr Margaret Anne Defreyter, Director of Healthy Living at Northumbria University, said: “Blackpool's Free School Breakfast scheme is one of the largest school breakfast schemes operating within the UK. The overall findings of the evaluation of the Blackpool Free School Breakfast scheme presented in the current report are very positive and based on these findings I strongly recommend that the scheme continues.”
• Overall children who attended breakfast consumed significantly more healthy items for breakfast than non-attendees
• 70 per cent of children taking part in the research attended free breakfasts
• The scheme has the potential to reduce inequalities in the nutritional quality of children’s diets
• Parents and staff suggested there is a definite need for the scheme
• Universal element of the scheme prevents stigma
• Children feel happier and more alert
• There are potential benefits for punctuality and classroom performance
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “Back in January I was at Devonshire Primary School the first morning the children received their free breakfast. It was a delight to see so many happy children chatting to their friends while having a healthy and nutritious start to the day.
“It was clear from that first day that the scheme would be a success. Across Blackpool children were coming to school hungry and struggling to concentrate. As a council it was not a situation we could allow to continue. I am proud of the bold decision we made to trial this scheme, a move that no other council has made, and I’ve even prouder today to see the results of the research that shows we are improving the lives of our most vulnerable residents.
“The last five months have been a huge learning curve for our staff and the schools and I’d like to thank everyone for embracing this scheme and adapting so well.
“I welcome the recommendations made by the University, many of which we had already identified and are working on solutions.”
The Council’s Executive will meet on Monday 17 June to discuss the recommendation for the scheme to continue at a cost of £1.3 million.
Neil Hodgkins, head teacher of Devonshire Primary School, said: “"The free breakfast scheme has been a very welcome initiative and has confirmed that there was a need in our school communities for this provision. Children who had previously had nothing, or very little, to eat first thing are now enjoying a nutritious start to the day and presenting themselves as being livelier, more alert and ready to perform better in class.
“Although it is still early days to be quantifying this in terms of academic results or attainment value, we are seeing other benefits such as improved punctuality & attendance, the development of social skills at breakfast and the good habit of indulging in healthy eating at what many consider to be the most important meal of the day. I do hope that the findings of reports and evaluations will encourage the Council to make a commitment to continue providing this much-needed service for our children."
The research identified six recommendations:
• Review and carefully consider the start time of school breakfast
• Review the location in which school breakfast is served
• Review the menu and daily nutritional intake
• Staff training
• Parental / cultural change is crucial to long term sustainability
• Evaluation of long term educational attainment and short term cognitive performance.