Education & Family

Free school breakfasts for all tested by council

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Media captionOne mother tells the BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti she sometimes doesn't have time to give her children breakfast

Free breakfasts for all primary school pupils are to be provided by a council, in a three-month pilot project to stop children starting the day hungry.

Blackpool council says teachers are finding too many pupils coming to school without having any breakfast.

Council leader Simon Blackburn says a healthy meal before lessons will help pupils "focus on learning".

National Association of Head Teachers' president, Steve Iredale, said the scheme would have a "huge impact".

The £700,000 project, beginning with the new term on Tuesday, will provide breakfasts for all 12,000 primary pupils in Blackpool, regardless of their family income and whether they are eligible for free school meals.

Drink and drugs

Breakfasts such as cereal, fruit and yoghurt and milk at break time, will be given to pupils by the school meals service - in a scheme the council hopes will be extended for the rest of the school year.

"Every pupil will be able to start their school day fed and ready to learn," said Mr Blackburn, the council leader.

"There will be no discrimination between those families that can afford it and those that cannot."

It is an attempt to give all children a healthy start to the day in one of the country's most disadvantaged areas.

The seaside town is among the most deprived in England, it has one of the lowest levels of life expectancy and has high levels of drink and drug abuse.

Such factors mean that children in Blackpool are more likely to face malnourishment, says the council.

This local scheme is addressing a problem that has been identified as a national concern by teachers.

A survey from Kellogg's charitable trust in the autumn found that four in five teachers had seen examples of pupils arriving at school without having eaten any breakfast.

A majority believed that the problem was getting worse.

As well as a shortage of money, teachers believe the biggest cause is poor parenting.

"In many families, parents are leaving children to fend for themselves in the morning. This is because some parents simply don't have the time or inclination to prepare breakfast, let alone supervise their children or encourage them to eat it," says the report into teachers' experiences of children who arrive at school unfed.

There have also been accounts of teachers using their own money to buy food for pupils.

Last term, teachers at a primary school in Bristol took over the funding of breakfasts for 130 pupils, when a charity was unable to continue the financial support.

The free breakfast scheme in Blackpool will be monitored for its impact. But there have been previous assessments of pilot projects for free school meals.

Last summer researchers found positive results from free meal schemes in three local authorities.

The study looking at projects in Durham, Newham and Wolverhampton found that free meals for all helped to close the gap in test results between rich and poor pupils.

There is a free breakfast scheme for primary pupils in Wales, supported this year by £12.7m from the Welsh government. More than three quarters of primary schools are participating.

The scheme, running since 2004, aims to improve the health and concentration of pupils.

Mr Iredale said: "This is an issue on which central government and local government have got to sit down and act.

"For too long it's something we have reflected on, but now it's time to do something about it."

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