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Friday, 18 September 2020

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Over half of teachers fear rise in hunger among children returning to school in September

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Magic Breakfast charity has today published a YouGov survey of teachers, highlighting the impact of hunger on children’s learning during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in schools with high levels of disadvantage. The survey was commissioned by a group of food companies and distributors which support Magic Breakfast through gift-in-kind donations.

The survey found that:

  • 57% of teachers surveyed anticipate there will be an increase in the number of children arriving at school hungry in September 2020, compared to September 2019. In schools with above-average levels of disadvantage, this rises to 64% of teachers.
  • 64% of teachers surveyed think that hunger will harm efforts to catch children up on the learning they missed out on during school closures. This rises to 79% of teachers in schools with above-average levels of disadvantage.

The survey also asked teachers what policies they support to tackle child hunger. Teachers overwhelmingly want firm action taken to ensure children at risk of hunger have access to free school breakfast. The survey found that:

  • 86% of teachers surveyed support a nationwide programme to ensure children at risk of hunger have access to a free breakfast during the school term.
  • 74% of teachers surveyed believe that school breakfasts will help children catch up on learning. This rises to 83% of teachers in schools with above-average levels of disadvantage.

These findings reinforce previous research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Education Endowment Foundation which found that Year 2 pupils in schools with a universal, free school breakfast provision made two months’ additional academic progress in one year, compared to children in schools with no such breakfast provision.

In light of the survey results, Magic Breakfast’s CEO, Alex Cunningham, has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to call for urgent action on school breakfasts. Magic Breakfast is calling on the Government to bring forward school breakfast legislation to guarantee schools with high levels of disadvantage the long term, sustained support they need to provide free school breakfasts to children at risk of hunger.

Magic Breakfast’s CEO, Alex Cunningham, said:

“After months of school closures, it is deeply worrying that so many children are expected to return to school too hungry to catch up on the learning they have missed out on. Without Government action, these children will fall even further behind and the education attainment gap will continue to widen. During the pandemic, we have rightly applauded teachers who have gone above and beyond for their pupils. Now we must act to address their concerns. The legislation is urgently needed to guarantee children at risk of hunger have access to free healthy school breakfast, unlocking hours of learning and enabling them to reach their full potential.”

Nicola Noble, the co-Head Teacher of Surrey Square Primary School in London, said:

“The results of this survey reflect the challenges I have experienced at my school. Many of our families are struggling to put food on the table as a result of COVID-19 related income and job losses and are looking to the school for help. With support from Magic Breakfast, we have been able to provide free school breakfasts to children at risk of hunger since 2011 and I’ve seen first-hand the difference this makes. Pupils start the day with full stomachs, feeling settled and calm, and are better behaved and more able to concentrate on lessons. This will make a massive difference as we begin the task of supporting wellbeing and catching up on missed learning, come September.”

Robert Halfon, Member of Parliament for Harlow, said:

“As Chair of the Education Select Committee, I’ve heard evidence from many teachers about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged children. This is why I campaigned to keep free school meal vouchers over the summer and the Government were absolutely right to do this through the Covid Summer Food Fund. It is good news there is a £500m Hardship Fund that parents can access from their local council as well as a £9 million Holiday and Activities Food Programme. Given the findings from Magic Breakfast’s survey, I hope the Department for Education will carefully consider how best to support disadvantaged children from September onwards. It is also my hope that more money will be put into school breakfast provision across the country, as we know that we can advance learning by up to two months’ progress over the course of a year if children have a healthy breakfast.”

The Government currently funds school breakfasts through the National School Breakfast Programme, which is implemented by Magic Breakfast and Family Action. The Programme has demonstrated a positive impact on children’s ability to learn, however, it reaches roughly 20% of the 1.8 million school-age children at risk of hunger in the UK, and it is due to end in March 2021.

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