Most heads praise breakfast project

Breakfast time at St John's CE Primary school, Blackpool. Kodie Dawson (seven).
Breakfast time at St John's CE Primary school, Blackpool. Kodie Dawson (seven).
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Headteachers have agreed adding breakfast to schoolchildren’s morning routine has improved the start of the day.

The Gazette spoke to headteachers from seven schools over the course of the three-month pilot to gauge their thoughts on the scheme.

Breakfast time at St John's CE Primary school, Blackpool. From left, Bailey Hoyle (seven), Connor Simpson (seven), Kodie Dawson (seven) and Thomas Wilkinson (six).

Breakfast time at St John's CE Primary school, Blackpool. From left, Bailey Hoyle (seven), Connor Simpson (seven), Kodie Dawson (seven) and Thomas Wilkinson (six).

While feedback varied from the schools, it was generally agreed the scheme met the majority of its objectives.

Graeme Dow, headteacher at Anchorsholme Primary School, said: “It certainly gives that focused start to the day.”

And Waterloo Primary Academy headteacher Mark Gray said: “The children are a little bit more alert and alive and ready to learn.

“Being able to learn because they’re not hungry is good,” added Sue Diver, headteacher at Mereside Primary School.

While Barbara Ivell, headteacher at Moor Park Primary School, said the breakfast time also had social benefits, giving children time to share news.

It was initially touted that the incentive of breakfast before class would also improve punctuality and attendance at schools.

Thames Primary Academy headteacher Tracey Harrison said: “It’s really helped punctuality, it meant children who are sometimes late will be in before 9am.”

But Mrs Diver said: “I’ve not seen much difference in punctuality or attendance, I don’t think I ever thought it would make much difference there.”

Another primary aim of the scheme was to embed healthy eating practices in schools and the community and improve nutrition for Blackpool schoolchildren, reducing health inequalities.

But there have been concerns raised over children overeating if offered breakfast at home as well as in school.

Mrs Harrison added: “The only issue is that some are having two, so at home and in school.”

Sandra Hall, headteacher at St John’s CE Primary School, said: “A lot of children do have breakfast at home so you’re doubling up.”

The research has recommended to review and carefully consider the start time of school breakfast so as to reduce those numbers of children eating two breakfasts and also not to eat into lesson time.

Mrs Hall added: “It’s like using curriculum time, every minute is valuable, it does take the children around 15 minutes so from that point of view it was a bit tricky at first.”

Similarly it has also recommended reviewing the location of breakfast each morning, with some school staff and teachers calling for learning spaces to be separate from eating areas.

While the report suggests changing the start time of school breakfast could further improve punctuality and changing the location of breakfast would reduce mess in classrooms, it also acknowledges that both of these things would have cost implications.

Headteachers said they hoped the menu would be dictated by children’s choices while ensuring healthy options – reviewing the menu on offer and nutrition offered was also recommended by the report.

Mr Dow said: “We need to think about the content to make sure they’re eating a healthy diet so it might be we’re looking at more fruit so it’s not as carbohydrate driven.”

All headteachers agreed that the idea was a good one in theory and said they hoped it would continue, though most acknowledged elements such as cost and waste needed reviewing.

Mrs Harrison said: “We all value it, it’s really important to make sure children have had a healthy breakfast to start their day.”

Mrs Ivell said: “I don’t think you could ever be sure how many didn’t have breakfast.

“There’d be very few you’d know and they were already under our umbrella.

“It will make a very big difference to them and the other children will benefit now they’re having a nutritious breakfast and parents have that confidence.”

The objectives of the scheme:

- Contribute to reducing health inequalities (chronic disease morbidity and life expectancy) by improving health among communities that demonstrate the worse health outcomes

- Improve nutritional status of primary school children in Blackpool

- Increase awareness of healthy eating

- Support and embed healthy eating practices within schools and the local community, particularly among children

- Improve punctuality, attendance, educational attainment of primary school children

The report:

Bosses at Blackpool Council commissioned a report into the “impact of school breakfast provision on health, wellbeing and educational engagement”, at a cost of £18,000.

Researchers from Northumbria University, made up of developmental psychologists, health psychologists, nutritionists and statisticians, talked with teachers, school staff, parents and teachers from five of the 33 schools through semi-structured interviews and an online questionnaire to collect feedback.

It found 70 per cent of children taking part in the research attended free breakfasts and they consumed significantly more healthy items for breakfast.

What are the recommendations?

Review and carefully consider the start time of school breakfast. An earlier start would potentially:

- Increase punctuality and attendance rates

- Decrease the probability of children consuming two breakfasts

- Provide increased time for breakfast consumption and social peer-to-peer interactions

- Reduce wastage

- Have cost implications in terms of staffing

Review location in which school breakfast is served. Serving breakfast in non-classroom space could result in:

- Less invasion of classroom space

- Separation of eating and learning activities

- Easier transition into the formal learning of the school day

- Some cost implications

Review menu and daily nutritional intake to:

- Reduce level of sugars

- Reduce likelihood of dental decay

- Consider use of ready to serve cereals
- Dilute fruit juice

- Follow recommendations for dietary intake across ages

Staff training:

- Staff require more in-depth nutritional knowledge about food and appropriate choices

- Careful balance required between what’s healthy and what’s popular

- Menus need to be displayed for parents, governors and pupils

- Need to consider nutritional balance across the school day

- Training could lead to a reduction in waste, healthier children and an increased knowledge base

Parental/Cultural Change is crucial to long term sustainability:

- Need to empower parents/communities to change

- Online website is recommended to keep parents informed

Evaluation of long term educational attainment, attention, memory, etc:

- Examination of mood, thirst and hunger

- Evaluate minimum days of attendance to drive forward change

- Evaluate the impact on school lunch consumption

- Evaluate overall breakfast nutritional components

- Examine summer feeding (i.e. Is there an increase in breakfast skipping?)

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