UP to 12,000 primary school pupils will get free breakfast and milk as part of ambitious £700,000 plans to ensure Blackpool children are not going hungry.
Blackpool Council’s three-month pilot scheme – to be brought into force in January in a bid to improve attendance, behaviour and standards in schools – comes after a shocking report revealed some older children are more likely to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes in an average week than eat breakfast.
The proposal, will see every child in the town aged four to 11 given cereal or toast, fruit juice and milk in the morning.
And if the trial is a success, the scheme could be extended to secondary schools.
It comes after Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, made an impassioned plea earlier this month to residents to help rid the town of its problems. He said: “This is a bold and ambitious move, but one which is founded entirely in fact, and one which research clearly demonstrates will be of huge benefit to children across the borough.
“Despite our superb schools, excellent teachers and committed support and catering staff, and the best efforts of the majority of parents, Blackpool still has a big problem with attendance, attainment and behaviour in the classroom. Daily, we see and hear of children attending school who quite clearly haven’t had breakfast, and are not therefore able to learn. Under-nourishment is a real problem here in Blackpool, as one would expect in an area beset by high levels of child poverty.
“We do a survey with the NHS and when we broke it down we found in certain schools more children have used alcohol and tobacco in the previous week than have had their five a day or breakfast before they leave to go to school.
“That is just awful, very shocking, and it makes you shudder that in 2012 that should be the case. That is why we are taking action and although it isn’t going to be easy, where there’s a will there is a way. We are determined to make this work.”
Coun Blackburn says the scheme will mean those low-paid parents in work, who are currently struggling to find £10 or £15 a week to pay for school breakfast clubs, will be able to spend that money in other ways which would stimulate the local economy.
He added: “This is something that’s been in our minds for a long time but because it involves substantial expenditure, a lot of planning and a lot of wanting to get it right, we’ve waited until now. We’re confident now that we can make it work and stack up.”
The £700,000 cost of the three-month free breakfast scheme will be paid for out of the leisure and operations department, which covers school catering, with the money being “re-prioritised” from other council services.
It is not yet known which other services will be affected.
And the Council is hoping to hook up with breakfast brands like Kellogg’s in a bid to help cover the cost of making the scheme permanent.
Neil Hodgkins, headteacher at Devonshire Primary School, Blackpool, said: “We try and support children anyway, so if a child is coming to school who obviously hasn’t had breakfast we will give them a piece of toast.
“But at the moment that is on an ad hoc basis, so this idea is something a bit more organised and substantial and it is a good idea.
“It will help their overall wellbeing. It is about getting children to school on time, getting the day off to a good start and setting the standards for the rest of the day.
“Children who are well nourished definitely perform much better – there is no doubt about that.”
Blackpool Council’s executive committee will meet to vote on the proposal on Monday.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the opposition, said: “Sustainability is the key and I just hope this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction. I hope Mr Blackburn will see the benefits and find the funds to make it permanent.
“Whether it will solve issues of poverty within the town is doubtful but it will certainly help children start their day in the right and proper way.
“So I agree with it, it is a good idea, and it is certainly a step in the right direction, but the secret to its success will be good management.”