A coterie of key research organisations have collaborated in a small scale study of the effects of breakfast clubs in schools. The results of their research have been published today. https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8714
The headline on the IFS press release is ‘Breakfast clubs work their magic in disadvantaged English schools’. However, embedded in the text of the press summary is the observation that: “while relatively disadvantaged students (those eligible for free school meals) were more likely to attend the breakfast clubs, the intervention was more effective at raising the attainment of pupils from less disadvantaged backgrounds (those not eligible for free school meals). This suggests that support for school breakfast clubs might not reduce socio-economic gaps in pupil attainment.” For many this will be a disappointing outcome as it is always hoped that the breakfast will have benefits on learning: perhaps the results take time to trickle down or the sample of these pupils in the study produced this finding.
However, this finding raises the issue of cost effectiveness of this type of intervention. The report states that “gains in pupil achievement were delivered at relatively low cost. Dividing the costs by all pupils in the school, the intervention cost just £11.86 per eligible pupil over the course of the academic year. It also required 2.6 hours of staff time per eligible pupil per year. It should be noted, however, that the breakfast club take-up rates were relatively low – the average school’s take-up rate was between 13% and 52%. An increase in take-up would lead to higher costs, but also potentially higher impact on attainment.” There are, of course, other benefits, two of which are detailed below.
There did seem to be a positive gain in terms of attendance with “absence rates falling by almost one half-day per year. The effect was particularly strong for authorised absences, which are primarily due to ill health. This suggests that the breakfast club might have improved pupil health, although we did not find strong evidence to support this when looking at the average Body Mass Index of students in Year 6.” Sadly, late arrivals were not significantly encouraged by the offer of a before-school breakfast club to seemingly improve their arrival times. This is a disappointment, as it might have been hoped that the breakfast club would have helped encourage both attendance and an improvement in time-keeping. Perhaps the research didn’t cover a long enough period or the marketing to parents didn’t reach the groups that might benefit the most.
The other finding that teachers will welcome and that might be enough to encourage more schools down the road of breakfast clubs was that “Behaviour and concentration in the classroom improved substantially as a result of the breakfast club provision, suggesting that a better classroom learning environment is an important mechanism through which the intervention might improve attainment. The improvement in teachers’ assessments of their classroom learning environment was equivalent to moving a classroom from average ratings of behaviour and concentration to ratings in the top quarter of the schools in our sample.” Food aids learning, improves concentration and reduces bad behaviour. Great news for teachers.