Magic breakfast is the charity working to eradicate child hunger across the UK. Their ethos is simple and stems from the belief that no child or young person in the UK should be too hungry to learn.   

Recently Magic Breakfast released a report called Hidden Hunger. In this report the charity confronts the state of breakfast provision at schools in the UK, head on. From its recommendations to the shocking statistics that the report highlights, it is evident that the insufficient provision of breakfast in schools, is a growing problem that needs immediate attention.   

The Current Landscape

According to the Hidden Hunger report, 250,000 children across the UK are at risk of going into school too hungry or malnourished to concentrate (1). This prevents them from fully participating in their education. But it also perpetuates the attainment gap that already exists for disadvantaged children and young people.  

It is no secret or surprise, that children and young people from poorer and/or disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately affected by the UK’s current cost of living crisis.   

Soaring energy bills, mounting food prices and rising taxes have made everyday life even more challenging for those that are already struggling to make ends meet. And unfortunately, children and young people are bearing the biggest brunt. As a result, families are being pushed to the limit. In England alone, 3.6 million children and young people are living in modern day poverty (2).  

The Hidden Hunger report highlights that only a quarter of these pupils have access to breakfast at school. This means that there could be as many as 2.7 million young people living in areas of high disadvantage, that are at risk of starting the school day, too hungry to learn (3).

In this blog we discuss child hunger as a barrier to education. We will also be taking a closer look at what can be done to ensure that all young people in the UK have their basic needs met. So that they are in the best possible position to thrive and excel at school.  

What makes hunger a barrier to education?

It has been scientifically proven that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. There are several benefits to eating a healthy and nutritious breakfast in the morning, including higher energy levels, a boost in brain power and a reduction in the risk of certain illnesses (4).   

When a child consistently misses out on breakfast, their ability to engage in the learning environment, is negatively affected. And thus, their education is at risk. Hungry children are more susceptible to distractions. Distracted children tend to easily and quickly lose interest in school. As such they are unable to make the most out of the learning opportunities presented to them.  

The numbers paint a worrying picture

With 4000 schools not offering breakfast provision and a further 12,000 schools failing to banish the barriers that hamper the most vulnerable children from accessing provision, “children the length of the country are missing out on hours of learning every morning” (5).  

Breakfast brand Kellogs produced a report which showed that Scotland fared the worst in terms of school breakfast provision, whilst Wales ranked top when comparing figures across the 4 nations that make up the UK (6).   

The Magic Breakfast report gives a further breakdown stating that 41% of schools in Scotland have no breakfast provision at all (7). Wales has the highest level of school breakfast provision at 93%, with the majority of these schools offering breakfast provision free of charge (8).   

73% of schools in Northern Ireland have some form of breakfast provision. However Northern Ireland currently has no dedicated funding for school breakfast provision (9).   

It is evident that there is not enough funding to reach all children and young people. Many children are therefore unable to learn due to hunger, leaving them vulnerable to academic and behavioural challenges at school.  

How is the cost of living crisis affecting students?

School breakfast provision, or the lack of it, has a direct impact on school attendance, academic attainment and a young person’s life chances and earning potential. It is likely that for students from low-income families, school lunch is their only proper meal of the day.   

The fact that schools are having to choose between cheaper (and lower quality) ingredients, or smaller food portions, proves just how dire the situation has become. Unless the government increases funding and more targeted investment is allocated to free school meals, this downward spiral of hidden hunger is set to continue (10).   

Teenager Sara shares her experience;   

“In my school, the breakfast club cost £2 a day, so I couldn’t attend. My mum is a carer with four children and it just wasn’t possible to pay for everyone’s school meals. My parents did their absolute best and I never went a day when I was hungry – but I had a lot of anxiety.” (11)  

Headteacher, Helen Stout has made the tough decision to stop funding milk for Key Stage 2 pupils, explaining that “the cost has become astronomical.” (12) 

Many schools are supporting breakfast out of their own budget. However, this is not a sustainable approach to funding. This is because the increasing demand does not offset against the decrease in school budgets, in the most deprived areas.   

What are the benefits of breakfast provision?

A hearty and healthy breakfast is fuel for learning and creativity. There are numerous positive outcomes that can be attributed to the provision of free and de-stigmatised breakfast.

A study conducted by Leeds University found that students who regularly ate breakfast achieved nearly two GCSE grades higher (13).  

Magic Breakfast partner schools noted the following:   

  • 81% of schools report breakfast provision increased attainment.   
  • 79% of schools report breakfast provision increased attendance.   
  • 94% of schools report breakfast provision increased energy levels, engagement, and readiness to learn.  

According to Kellogs’ Breakfast Club audit, “teachers believe that school breakfast provision makes a significant difference to attendance and concentration in class and have a longer-term impact on exam results.” (14)   

The audit highlighted that 45% of schools said that their club has improved attendance. Whilst 49% of schools said that their club has improved concentration. Additionally, 15% of schools noticed an improvement in exam results linked to the Breakfast Club.   

Taking Action

“Hunger is a real concern for school staff who regularly see children arriving in the morning without having eaten, and therefore not ready to learn. These concerns have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the financial impact it has had on many families.” (15)  

There is an urgent need for the government to intervene and secure long term funding, regular donations and significant investment to support schools. Without this financial backing, creating provision and scaling it up where it already exists, will prove challenging. The average breakfast club costs £3000 to set up and run.

On a positive note, and despite the escalating cost of living crisis, bakery giant Greggs has launched two new fully funded breakfast clubs in the Greater Manchester area (16).    

Giving every child the best start in life

Breakfast provision in the UK should be designed in such a way that it is inclusive, but also barrier and stigma free. It should be effective in reaching all pupils at risk of hunger. Simply offering free breakfast is not enough to ensure that it reaches the children and young people who need it the most.  

It’s important that the stigma associated with Free School Meals (FSM) is addressed with sensitivity. Giving practical advice to school leadership teams can help them take steps to remove it altogether.   

Ultimately, breakfast provision is not just about food. It is also about inclusion, equality of opportunity and giving every child the best start in life.  

A healthy and hearty breakfast is not the only thing that sets young people up for success at school. At Say It With Your Chest, we believe that helping young people to develop their soft skills is just as important. Our personal development workshops help to guide young people to become the best version of themselves. To find out more about how we can help, get in touch today. We would love to hear from you. 

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  1. Kellogs Breakfast Club Audit 
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