What is a breakfast club?
The morning rush to leave the house is often the most stressful part of the day for parents of primary school children. Making sure your kids are up, washed, dressed and have had a decent breakfast can be an uphill struggle, and if you’re trying to get to work yourself, it can be even more fraught.
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But families who send their children to a before-school breakfast club are some of the calmest and least stressed, according to new research from Kellogg’s. It shows that parents whose children go to these clubs are less likely to feel tired and overwrought in the mornings – and their children benefit, too.
What is a breakfast club?
As the name suggests, breakfast clubs are before-school clubs for children. They typically open around an hour before school starts, and most are run on school premises, although some take place other venues such as community centres. They may be run by teachers, teaching assistants, catering staff, specially employed staff, and/or volunteers.
‘The main purpose of a breakfast club is to provide a safe, secure environment before school, where children can have a decent breakfast with their friends,’ says Kate Price, corporate social responsibility manager for Kellogg’s. They also play an important role in providing before-school childcare for families where parents work or need to get other children to different schools or childcare settings.
What happens at breakfast club?
The format of breakfast clubs varies, but all of them provide a healthy breakfast (ranging from cereal to porridge to beans on toast) for children, alongside activities that they can take part in before school. ‘Children come in and have their breakfast, then they have time to play,’ says Kate. ‘There are usually activities such as board games, colouring and drawing, and some clubs have computers where children can either play or do homework. Some also incorporate exercise or movement, such as Wake Up Shake Up – a series of five- to 10-minute routines choreographed to pop music – or the Daily Mile.
Who can attend?
Most breakfast clubs are open to all pupils at the school, although staff may target particular groups. ‘Schools will often discreetly encourage pupils who have attendance issues, or who they suspect don’t get breakfast at home, to attend,’ Kate says.
Breakfast clubs are especially popular with working families. Research has shown that over a quarter of parents believe they’d have to consider giving up work if they didn’t have access to a breakfast club. Mum of two Leanne Gardner says, ‘Without breakfast club, I wouldn’t be able to get to work until 9.30am, which would mean I wouldn’t get home until 6pm, allowing me just 30 to 60 minutes with my sons. This way, I can work from 8.30am until 4.30pm, and spend time with the boys in the evening, doing their homework and playing.’
Some breakfast clubs, rather than being open to all, are available to certain groups of pupils. For example, many schools put on breakfast clubs for Year 6 children in the run-up to SATs, and during the exam week itself, to provide extra revision opportunities and to ensure they’re at school on time and well nourished on test days. ‘Some schools also have clubs that are aimed at pupils who need extra help, for example with reading and writing, so they can have one-to-one attention,’ adds Kate.
How do children benefit?
There has been a wealth of research into the benefits of children having a good breakfast. These include:
- Improved concentration
- Improved attendance and punctuality
- Better behaviour
- Improved attainment and achievement at school.
A 2008 report by the School Food Trust found that in deprived areas of London, KS2 SATs results were better in schools with breakfast clubs than in those without.
Sixty two per cent of school staff regularly witness children arriving at school hungry, so inviting these pupils to breakfast club ensures that they start the day with a proper breakfast, which has knock-on effects on their learning and behaviour.
Teachers say that breakfast clubs have a noticeable impact on the children who attend. Speaking to Teaching Times, the headteacher of Oxford Gardens Primary School in London says, ‘An early start is what our young people need. It provides the opportunity for the children to engage in activities to get them going for the day. That hour before school is stress-free. There’s no need for hurrying or being late, because they are already there. They also have a nutritious breakfast and always start with a smile on their faces, ready for learning.’
Breakfast clubs are also a good place for children to socialise. ‘The social interaction is really important; often, the breakfast club is the only opportunity for children of different ages to spend time together at school,’ Kate explains. ‘It can also reduce bullying, because children aren’t left to their own devices in the playground.’
How much does it cost?
Breakfast clubs may be funded by school budgets, local or national government schemes, or sponsorship from charities or businesses, so parents may or may not be expected to foot the bill. In March 2018, the government announced that it was investing £26 million – raised by the sugary drinks levy – into breakfast clubs. The clubs will be run by the charities Family Action and Magic Breakfast, and will benefit 1,770 schools in total.
Approximately a quarter of breakfast clubs are completely free for all children to attend. Some only offer free places to children from lower income families – typically those who are eligible for the pupil premium.
Others charge a nominal amount per breakfast item (from around 10p to 70p), or have a daily charge – an average £1.68 nationally – for children to attend.
More formal breakfast clubs – often those that are run by private companies with the main aim of providing before-school childcare – may have higher fees of up to £15 per session depending on the location and opening hours.
Starting a breakfast club at your child’s school
According to Kellogg’s, 85 per cent of primary schools now have a breakfast club. However, if your child’s school doesn’t have a club, there may be the potential to start one. ‘There are grants available to help with start-up and running costs, and training is available through the University of Northumbria,’ says Kate. ‘Often, parent volunteers are able to get a club up and running with the support of the school, so it’s worth talking to the headteacher about the opportunity to set one up.’