Breakfast clubs boost reading and mathematics results for primary school pupils

Breakfast clubs that offer pupils in primary schools a free and nutritious meal before school can boost their reading, writing and maths results, according to the results of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Over the course of an academic year parents of around 8,600 pupils from 106 primary schools in England with higher than average numbers of disadvantaged pupils were encouraged to send their child to free breakfast clubs. The independent evaluation by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Children’s Bureau found that for Year 2 children the provision of a breakfast club led to a significant improvement in the main outcome measures of mathematics (Effect Size = +0.15) and reading (+0.10) when compared with schools running “business as usual”. For Year 6 children, the impact on assessments were positive but slightly smaller in reading (+0.10) and mathematics (+0.08). Surprisingly, there were larger improvements for pupils not eligible for free school meals than for those eligible.

The evaluators also reported that pupils’ behaviour and concentration improved. Attendance at school also improved for pupils in breakfast club schools, resulting in about 26 fewer half-days of absence per year for a class of 30. The findings suggest that it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements, but attending a breakfast club. This could be due to the content of the breakfast itself, or to other social or educational benefits of the club.

Source: Magic Breakfast: Evaluating school breakfast provision. Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Getting off to the best start

A new review in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience analyses existing research on the effects of breakfast on primary and secondary pupils’ academic performance and classroom behaviour. The authors searched articles published between 1950 and 2013, and found 36 suitable for inclusion.

The review found that the positive effects of breakfast on academic performance were clearer than on behaviour. Increased frequency of habitual breakfast was consistently positively associated with academic performance. Evidence from school breakfast programmes also suggested a positive effect on school performance, particularly with maths grades and arithmetic scores and in undernourished children and/or children from deprived or low socio-economic backgrounds. However, the authors warn that these results may be confounded by socio-economic status (SES), which was not always taken into account.

Children from higher SES backgrounds are more likely to regularly eat breakfast.

The evidence also suggests beneficial effects of breakfast for on-task behaviour in the classroom, mainly in younger children (under 14). This effect was apparent in children who were well-nourished, undernourished and/or from deprived or low socio-economic backgrounds. However, the authors are more cautious about these findings, noting that there are difficulties surrounding accurately measuring behaviour due to its “inherently subjective” nature.

Source: The Effects of Breakfast on Behavior and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7.