A recent study by Cardiff University established a positive link between a good breakfast and pupil attainment. It found that the chance of achieving an above-average educational performance was up to twice as high for pupils who have a healthy breakfast.
Why do children go hungry or have a diet lacking in nutrition? Causes include parental neglect, poor skills, two working parents with a constant squeeze on time and the lack of an adequate income.
Evidence to the Children’s Commission on Poverty in 2014 said that while the cost of essential items for families, such as utilities and food, had increased by 28% over the previous six years, average wages had risen by only 9%.
Magic Breakfast, a charity established in 2003 by former management consultant Carmel McConnell, 54, helps to provide free breakfasts in 480 schools across England, aided by companies that include Tesco and Quaker Oats. At a cost of 22p per child, 23,500 children eat breakfast every school morning.
The headteacher of one of Hartlepool’s 32 state primary schools – currently on the Magic Breakfast waiting list – explains why the charity’s work is so important:
“We have children having children and they often lack parenting skills. Some young children who come to us don’t expect to be spoken to – they expect to be shouted at. Some don’t know their own name. They come from homes where the only book is the Argos catalogue.
“For some children, the last decent meal was school dinner, and the next decent meal will be school dinner. Mum often doesn’t know how to cook and doesn’t have an oven. We teach children to sit at a table and eat with a knife and fork. We have to do tooth-brushing too in the early years because there is poor dental hygiene. Some mums have two or three jobs, but because they work more than 16 hours [a week], the children aren’t entitled to free school dinners no matter how low the family income.
“We always allow seconds in eating. Obesity isn’t a problem here. Breakfast settles them down and we give it to any child who says they are hungry. We do a good job because we believe all children have the right to an education.
“Some people say it’s up to the parents to look after their children, but we know that. Often, if we don’t step in, it won’t get done. Magic Breakfast will make a big difference.”