Breakfast For All scheme eases stigma for children living in poverty

Universal free breakfast provision in schools removes 'stigma and embarrassment' for children most in need, a new study has found.

The findings are included in a report into a 'breakfast in the classroom' initiative at a primary school in Inverness.

Researchers observed one week's worth of breakfast-eating in class for all nine classes at Cauldeen Primary School in Inverness.

The study followed the introduction of Breakfast for All, which made cereal, toast, fruit and porridge freely available to all pupils daily.

Free breakfasts for all children would help those most in need overcome 'stigma and embarrassment'

Researchers also surveyed pupils and parents and interviewed teachers, catering staff, and support workers at the school.

Evidence from the children suggests around 10 per cent of pupils would have gone hungry in the mornings without the free breakfasts.

Teachers praised the initiative for not singling out the children who were reliant on the free food.

Many staff gave examples of providing breakfast and break-time snacks on an informal basis to children, before its introduction.

Classroom staff reported children were more focused on learning before the mid-morning break each day without hunger impairing concentration.

The study was undertaken by researchers from the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Professor John McKendrick, co-director of SPIRU at GCU, said: "The consensus was the universal provision of breakfast reduced the stigma and embarrassment for hungry children.

"The testimony from parents, staff and pupils was overwhelmingly positive.

"Many families across Scotland will already be finding it difficult to balance budgets, before the cost-of-living ramps up with the extra cost of energy that lies ahead.

"Providing breakfast food in school is a safety net that ensures that all children are better placed to get the most out of a school day."

During the 2021/22 school year, it is estimated almost 22,000 breakfasts were distributed at Cauldeen Primary, feeding 57 per cent of pupils on a typical day.

Researchers found little evidence to suggest the children were over-eating.

Primary four pupils told researchers "your brain doesn't work the same" when hungry, breakfast "boosts your energy" and "you feel sick" when you don't eat before class.

One parent said: "It's great because children who may not have breakfast at home won't feel singled out as all the children are having something.

Robyn Hammond, Headteacher of Cauldeen Primary, said: "Children know that they will get something to eat first thing at school, so they are not worried about sitting hungry until lunchtime.

"They don't have to ask for food anymore and the stigma has gone.

"It is only 'a bit of toast', but it is a bit of toast that has a big impact.

"The benefits are social and emotional as well as physical."

The Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative (NARIC) provided financial assistance to support the fieldwork costs of the report with the support of Highland Council.

Laurence Findlay, lead for the NARIC and Director of Education and Children's Services at Aberdeenshire Council, said: "It is essential we learn from this work to ensure we continue to develop our approaches to supporting young people's wellbeing which will be crucial if we are to be successful in tackling the poverty-related attainment gap."

Councillor John Finlayson, Highland Council’s Education Committee chair, added: “Children need a positive start to their day and having a breakfast certainly supports this."

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