Hunger at school widens the attainment gap

Food deprivation has both short-term as well as long-term negative effects on children’s cognition, and the most severe impact is on those with the worst disadvantages. Breakfast clubs are difficult to implement, but they help children get nutritious food so that they can start their school day prepared to learn.

Why is breakfast important for children?

Recently, the Summer Food Fund was launched in England. This fund is a result of a campaign by the footballer Marcus Rashford. The fund offers food vouchers to children who receive free meals at school (because they receive income support). It is not only important to ensure that children are fed, but also for them to learn.

Around 20-30% of students are estimated to skip breakfast in many countries. This can negatively affect cognition and performance at school. While negative effects on tasks that are more challenging or require working memories may affect all children, it is worse for those already undernourished. The impact of skipping breakfast are greater for them than for their peers. There are also long-term effects on their cognition. The lack of food among disadvantaged students contributes to the achievement gap, which is the difference in academic performance between economically disadvantaged students and their peers.

Lack of food among disadvantaged students contributes to the achievement gap.

Breakfast clubs are a good solution.

Before the COVID-19 epidemic closed schools, breakfast clubs run by the school were a way to get a meal for disadvantaged kids before school. Schools usually run breakfast clubs and invite parents to drop off their children up to an hour before the start of lessons to enjoy a school-provided meal. Some schools provide free meals to all students, while others charge for lack of funds.

A recent evaluation examined the challenges of providing breakfast clubs and how parents could be encouraged to bring their children to these clubs. The review also highlighted the social benefits that come from mixing with other children at breakfast clubs, as well as improved attendance and behavior.

Breakfast clubs that are well-run, free, and supportive should help children begin the school day with a good breakfast.

The evaluation revealed that breakfast clubs did not reach all students, even those who could benefit the most. The staff seemed to view breakfast clubs as childcare, overlooking their expected benefits for cognition and education and not publicizing them widely. Parents said they did not know about breakfast clubs because it was advertised only once at the beginning. Parents and staff may be discouraged from signing up for breakfast clubs due to strained relationships.

This story teaches us a lot. Breakfast clubs can be promoted by using different communication methods to inform parents. Staff and parents should also be made aware of the many benefits of breakfast clubs. It may be possible to improve the relationship between parents and schools by encouraging a sense of community at breakfast clubs. Breakfast clubs should be accessible to as many students as possible, although funding is a problem for some schools.

“Can we also agree that no school-age child should go to school hungry?”

The National School Breakfast Programme in England is a million initiative that supports or improves breakfast clubs at 1,775 schools. A report evaluating this program will be released later this year. It provides further evidence of the impact of breakfast clubs in improving learning and behavior outcomes for disadvantaged students. There is a risk that the breakfast clubs won’t be safe to operate when school resumes, which could contribute to an increase in the achievement gap.


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