PRIMARY school children through Blackpool are to get a free breakfast in an ambitious new £700,000 pilot scheme. STEVE CANAVAN looks at the plan and hears the reaction from parents.
School used to be a place where you went exclusively for lessons, and maybe a kickabout with a football at break time.
Not any more. Primary schools have changed beyond recognition over the last decade and the latest plan – to provide a free breakfast for every pupil – is another step forward.
Council leader Simon Blackburn says the scheme will improve behaviour and attendance in the classroom.
More to the point, he adds, it will also ensure children get fed in the morning.
His comments are backed by a recent national survey, which found almost half of teachers have brought food in for pupils who arrive at school with empty stomachs.
Four out of five teachers (83 per cent) see pupils who are hungry in the morning.
With Blackpool the sixth most deprived authority, it feels the pinch more than most areas.
Coun Blackburn has launched Revitalising Blackpool – a taskforce of residents and community activists to try and tackle social problems and raise living standards.
The first phase is for all 12,000 of the town’s schoolchildren to get a free breakfast during a three-month pilot scheme at the start of next year.
And the move has gone down well with parents.
Most mums and dads spoken to by The Gazette insisted they made sure their children left the house with full stomachs. But they admitted breakfast at school would make their lives easier.
Selena Lapworth, of Gorton Street, has four children at Revoe Primary School. She said: “It is hard in the morning because everything is a bit chaotic with trying to get the children ready.
“I make sure they all have something to eat but it would make it so much easier if they had their breakfast at school.
“They also tend to ask for more after they’ve eaten, normally junk food. If they eat at school, they won’t be able to do that.”
Kelly Oldfield, of Blundell Road, also has four children at the school. She said: “It is a good idea because the older they get the harder it is to make sure they eat properly so having this in school would be a way of making sure they are getting the right food at the right time.”
Parents at Devonshire Primary School are also in favour of the scheme. Mum-of-two Sarah Lee, of Fenton Road, said: “When you’re a mum with a few children you are rushing about yourself so even when you give them breakfast, you inevitably rush off to do something else and you don’t know how much they are eating. I think the idea of a guaranteed breakfast at school is fantastic because it would give me peace of mind.”
Diane Nicholson works as a teaching assistant at Devonshire Primary School, where her eight-year-old son Karl is a pupil.
She says it is easy to spot a child who hasn’t had breakfast, explaining: “I work with children and you can just tell the ones that are hungry in the morning – they aren’t smiling and they have no energy to do things.
“All they are thinking about is what to have for dinner, and not what they’re supposed to be learning in their lessons.
“A full child is happy and more likely to learn so I don’t care how much this scheme costs the council. If it is £700,000, then in my book it is £700,000 well spent.”
Margaret Kearney doesn’t let her children leave the house unless they’ve eaten.
Mrs Kearney, whose daughters Chelsea, seven, and five-year-old Bethany, go to Devonshire School, said: “I give them cereal, toast and fruit juice because I think it’s vital they have something to get them ready for the day. It’s the most important meal.
“But I know not everyone does the same so breakfast at school is great because every child needs food and some don’t get it.”
Sarah Kirk, who has a son, Joseph, at primary school, added: “At school the first chance for a child to have a snack is during the morning breaks, which start around 10.15am. But then generally children have to pay for food so some children will go until lunchtime without any food inside them. That isn’t right and it shows. Children get grumpy if they are hungry and are less likely to learn, so giving them breakfast at school can only be good.”
Free breakfasts for all primary schoolchildren in Blackpool will begin in January. It is hoped the three-month pilot scheme will become permanent and will spread to secondary schools too.
‘This will help them arrive on time’
TEACHERS throughout the town agree having well-fed pupils should help in the classroom.
And according to one headteacher, the free breakfast scheme will help get pupils in to school in the first place.
Catherine Woodall, headteacher at Revoe Primary School, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us because we do sometimes struggle to get the children in on time.
“They often oversleep and don’t have breakfast, so a free one would definitely encourage them to come to school and that in itself will have a positive effect on their education.”
Associate headteacher at Revoe, Lesley Bennett, added: “The old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is perfectly true. Children who have something to eat in the morning concentrate better and their attitude to learning is much improved. I’m a mum myself and you can tell when your child has not eaten. Their sugar levels are low and if they’ve not got that energy inside them then they haven’t got the power to concentrate.”
One problem to overcome is how to implement the free breakfast plan.
“It will be served to children before the traditional school start of 9am – which means staff will be required.
Neil Hodgkins, headteacher at Devonshire Primary School, agreed there will be “practical challenges in implementing this”.
He added: “But if we believe it will improve the well-being of our pupils we will find a way to make it work.”
Barbara Lund, headteacher at Unity College in Warbreck, is fully behind the idea.
She said: “Having a good breakfast will set children up for the day.Any scheme which supports achievement and attainment in Blackpool, not just for a small group of children but for all groups of children, can only be welcomed.”
>> Nearly a third of children in Blackpool – 9,200 – are living in households where income is less than 60 per cent of the national average.
>> The figure for the most deprived areas, such as Bloomfield ward, is more than half.
>> Blackpool has between 470 and 650 families described as having “multiple problems.”
>> The overall level of poverty in the resort is 7.6 per cent higher than the national average.
>> South Shore is among the 10 most deprived communities in the UK according to research by the Church Urban Fund.
>> Claremont, Talbot, Bloomfield, Park and Clifton are the most deprived wards in the town.
>> Blackpool has the lowest mean gross household income in Lancashire at between £29,000 and £30,000 in 2011.
Warm welcome from resort’s community leaders
BLACKPOOL Council’s plans to introduce free breakfasts and break-time milk have been welcomed by some of the resort’s community leaders.
From January, all children in Blackpool’s primary schools will have toast or cereal, milk and juice to help them through their learning day.
Chairman of Grange Park Community Partnership Terry Bennett said the move was “win, win all round”.
And the chairman of Queens Park Tenants’ Association, Gwen King, agrees children could only benefit from the most important meal of the day.
Mrs King says the plan offers children the chance to have a healthy start to the day when their parents, for whatever reason, are unable to provide one.
“I wholeheartedly think this is a wonderful idea,” she said.
“Apart from the fact breakfast is quite an important meal of the day, there are a lot of children who, for whatever reason whether they can’t afford it or their parents don’t offer it, do not get a decent start to the day. Schools offering breakfast is something the kids will thoroughly enjoy.
“It will also be a nice social occasion for the kids to all get together.”
Mr Bennett, who is also a governor of Boundary Primary School, said pupils were already making the most of the school’s breakfast club, so making it free would attracting even more youngsters.
He said: “They will benefit from having a proper breakfast, from being in school on time and getting a full day’s learning with good extra-curricular activities alongside.”
For Ann Allen, of Mereside Tenants and Residents’ Association, the idea is good “on paper”, but she feels parents should be consulted before the scheme is rolled out.
She said she didn’t believe there were many parents in Mereside who weren’t able to provide breakfast for their children.
“Once they roll the ball out they can’t take it away from the kids who are hungry,” she warned.
“It seems unfair.”
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