Breakfast Time and Beating Hunger

4 November 2016

The prospective President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, once stated: “Home is a child’s first and most important classroom”. For lots of reasons, Hilary is likely dead right. Evidence from the ‘Magic Breakfast’ EEF project also shows that when the basic resources from home can prove lacking – like at breakfast time – that schools can do their bit.

In the ‘Magic Breakfast’ randomised controlled trial, involving 106 schools with a high level of disadvantage, the evidence shows that free breakfast clubs before registration made an important difference at school for the 8.600 children involved.

The results showed that year 2 children benefitted most, with a gain of two additional months progress in reading, writing and maths, when compared with similar student groups whose schools were not given the support to offer breakfasts.

The main findings are here:

  1. Year 2 children in schools providing a breakfast club experienced the equivalent of around 2 months’ additional progress compared to Year 2 children in the other schools in the trial. These positive results would be unlikely to occur by chance.
  2. For Year 6 children in schools providing a breakfast club, results for the main outcomes reading and maths were positive but could have occurred by chance. However, on other measures of writing and English they experienced the equivalent of around 2 months’ progress compared to Year 6 children in other schools in the trial. These positive results would be unlikely to occur by chance.
  3. The findings suggest that it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements, but attending a breakfast club. This could be due to the nutritional content of the breakfast itself, or the social or educational benefits of the breakfast club environment. 
  4. Pupil concentration and behaviour, as measured by a teacher survey, improved in the schools that provided breakfast clubs. This finding is interesting because it shows that breakfast clubs provide an opportunity to improve outcomes for children who do not actually attend breakfast club, through better classroom environments.      
  5. Activities thought to increase take-up of the breakfast provision included promoting the offer to parents, and encouraging all children to attend while sensitively targeting pupils most likely to benefit. Delivering Magic Breakfast required additional school staff time before school, which some schools found challenging to provide without charging for breakfast.

Yes – you are probably asking the question: why are children from one of the richest economies in the world going hungry each morning? Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the EEF, called it a “national scandal”. As politicians and more read the headlines on breakfast clubs, they should think hard about the moral implications of this evidence.

For schools, the positive impact on behaviour, emotional well being and learning is clear. Of course, logistically, such an approach is not always easy to implement – particularly as flat cash for schools shrinks and shrinks and the value of the pound drops still further.

So, what can teachers and school leaders take away from this important research?

  • Is the evidence good enough to pursue free, universal breakfasts for all of our students?
  • What are the logistical implications of such a programme for schools and should it be a priority for disadvantaged Pupil Premium students and more?
  • How do small primaries and rural schools best cope with policies like this?



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Posted on 4 November 2016
Posted in: Evidence
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