Pupils to tuck in as free school breakfasts given extra £1.3m

Tuck in! Youngsters at Devonshire Primary in Blackpool during the launch of the free breakfast scheme in January 2013

Tuck in! Youngsters at Devonshire Primary in Blackpool during the launch of the free breakfast scheme in January 2013

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Free school breakfasts in Blackpool will continue to be bankrolled by taxpayers - despite pressure on town hall budgets.

Blackpool Council said it will continue to finance the scheme at a cost of £1.3m a year despite being faced with having to find savings of £20m in the coming financial year.

The council is currently tendering for suppliers to the scheme, to take effect from January.

It launched the free breakfast scheme, for the resort’s 11,000 primary school pupils in January 2013, at a cost of £700,000 for the initial six month pilot.

Funding now comes from the town’s public health budget, which stands at £17.9m annually, following the transfer of responsibility for public health to local authorities in April 2013.

Coun Eddie Collett, cabinet member for health, said: “The budget is under considerable pressure but we feel very strongly the free school breakfasts is hitting as many targets as it possibly can and remains something we need to do.

“If it wasn’t working we wouldn’t be doing it, but we are convinced it is working.”

Council bosses had said, back in January 2013 when the scheme was first piloted, they would look into the feasibility of some funding for the scheme coming from a sponsorship agreement.

But talks held with cereal giant Kelloggs led organisers to move away from the sponsorship idea, saying the desire to ensure a variety of products for children could be compromised by such an agreement.

Coun Collett added: “While it is difficult to tell what the long-term educational benefits will be, they can only be better, and it is definitely having a positive effect on punctuality.”

Schools have reported a range of benefits from the scheme, from increased concentration in lessons to allowing for a social time at the start of the school day.

But there is so far little concrete evidence on the punctuality claim.

Headteacher Frances Wygladala, of St Kentigern’s Catholic Primary School, on Newton Drive, said: “I think the benefits are that the children are fed and that social element to it.

“I wouldn’t say it’s improved our punctuality overall, but we know they’re having breakfast and they’re enjoying it together, it’s very positive.”

A study is being carried out by Northumbria University to find feedback from schools, at a cost of £30,000, coming from the £1.3m total cost of the scheme.

This is due to be published in 2015 and will allow bosses behind the scheme to consider its impact and how it can be further improved.

Coun Collett said: “We are only two years into the scheme, and we have to give it time to bed in. Evidence gathering is going on and that will be made public.”

A total of 53,000 breakfasts are served each week, which is more than two million a year, at an annual cost of £1.3m which equates to around 50p a day per pupil.

There has been a 90 per cent take up rate among pupils, and no school has opted out.

Since the launch in September of free lunches for all schoolchildren aged between four and seven, funded by the Government as part of a national scheme, the council is also serving around a million free lunches a year as well.

This has made it tougher to find funding nationally for the breakfast scheme, council bosses have said, but the authority has said it is always open to the possibility of bidding for any possible grants to help with the cost.

Coun Collett said: “There is no intention to cut back on free breakfasts just because a number of children are getting free lunches as well. Both initiatives are good initiatives.

“Food wastage has never been as big a problem as some would say, but all schools have got better at predicting what they need on a daily basis so wastage is at a minimum.

“And we do try valiantly to get the kids to eat the healthy food.”

But the scheme has come under fire from Blackpool Council’s Tory opposition leader Coun Tony Williams who says he would prefer to see breakfast clubs introduced instead.

And he also questioned whether the need was as strong now free lunches had been launched.

He said: “Children are getting free lunches now so we know they are getting one good meal a day, so for that reason I would also question the need for free breakfasts.

“I would like us to explore the option of breakfast clubs instead which as well as offering hot breakfasts, have an educational element as well and maybe some exercise such as a kick-about.

“In other towns where these are run, they are funded through the schools and other fundraising.

“More schools are becoming academies and having more control over their finances and I think we have to allow the governors of schools to make these decisions.”

Coun Williams, who is also a governor at Anchorsholme Primary School, also warned offering breakfasts universally to all primary school pupils in the resort may lead to schools missing the warning signs that a youngster is not being properly looked after at home.

He said: “I wouldn’t want to see a child not getting the opportunity of a free breakfast if they need it.

“But this used to happen in the past anyway. I know from my work as a school governor that if a child arrived without breakfast, a teacher would take them into the kitchen and give them some toast.

“However, more importantly, it might raise concerns about the much deeper issue of whether the child was being looked after properly at home.

“And if we were more diligent about that, there wouldn’t be as many children in care. I worry we are not getting to the root of the problems.”

But Coun Collett said it would cost more for individual schools to run their own breakfast clubs, and that would take money away from education.

He added: “Running a universal scheme throughout the town means we make savings on economies of scale and also makes the administration cheaper.

“If schools want to add in an educational element, that is no problem at all, and for example at Waterloo Primary School I know children are shown how to cook, under the supervision of teachers.

“As for Coun Williams’ other concerns, schools do not have any problems in identifying children that are not being properly cared for at home. Teachers can do that perfectly well.”

Lynn Donkin, Blackpool Council public health specialist, said: “Helping to ensure that all children have a breakfast is really important.

“Not only can schemes like ours have a real effect on attendance at school and on children’s readiness to learn, particularly when they are part of a whole school approach to healthy eating, but this scheme also offers a real opportunity for children to get in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast from an early age, which is something they can take with them through life.”