Breakfast clubs are more cost-effective than the government’s flagship £1 billion universal infant free school meals policy in improving outcomes for pupils in disadvantaged areas, according to researchers.
A year-long trial in 106 primary schools, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), found pupils made an extra two months’ progress when a free breakfast club was introduced.
It was trialled in schools with 35 per cent or more pupils on free school meals, but was available to any child.
Researchers said breakfast clubs cost far less but might be more effective in improving academic attainment, lateness, absence rates and behaviour.
Ellen Greaves, senior research economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) and author of the evaluation report, said: “One policy conclusion for schools is it’s really clear this [breakfast club initiative] has a positive impact at a relatively low cost. It’s a lower cost than universal free school meals for infants, which is a national policy.”
She said the main finding was an improvement in pupil attainment at key stages 1 and 2, which was attributed to improved concentration and behaviour.
Greaves said a further breakdown found pupils with higher prior attainment made more improvement than their peers.
School leaders more generally, should consider using a free, universal and before-school model to benefit attainment
But she added: “Because the classroom environment improved so much, it improved outcomes for all. If you’re better placed to take advantage of a better learning environment, you will.”
The government will pump £10 million a year into expanding breakfast clubs from 2017.
Ministers have now been called on to go further. Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said: “They [the government], and school leaders more generally, should consider using a free, universal and before-school model to benefit attainment.”
However, schools in the trial said if the fairer funding formula was delayed again – its introduction has already been pushed back a year to 2018 – many would not have the budget to continue the initiative.
Universal infant free school meals cost £437 for each eligible pupil a year – and also claim to boost pupil productivity.
Meanwhile the breakfast club trial, run by charity Magic Breakfast, costs £11 per eligible pupil per year, although that did not include the extra staff cost of paying teachers to cover the early morning shift.
Warren Hills community school, in Leicestershire, which received funding during the trial, still needed to find an extra £9,000 to cover staffing, but used its pupil premium funding.
Andrea Lane, headteacher at the school that has 53 per cent of pupils on free school meals, said: “As long as the government continues to recognise that we need the pupil premium funding, and as the fairer funding comes in place – and Leicester is one of the places hit by the funding formula – we would definitely earmark our pupil premium for the breakfast club.”
Schools get funding for one year under the Magic Breakfast scheme, which has corporate sponsorship from major food retailers. If they want to continue, it costs from £500 a year for schools with fewer than 200 pupils to £1,500 for schools with more than 400 pupils.
A Department for Education spokesperson said they trusted schools to decide how best to use their pupil premium funding, which could include providing breakfast clubs. “From next year we will be investing £10million a year from the soft drinks levy to fund the expansion of healthy breakfast clubs.”