Headteacher column: Breakfast gives pupils a head start

Headteacher Steve Woodhouse.
Headteacher Steve Woodhouse.

The latest research findings coming out of Cardiff University will fail to surprise many of us. Public health experts say their findings provide the strongest evidence yet of a direct and positive link between eating breakfast and educational attainment. Their report suggests that the odds of achieving an above-average score in tests at the age of 11 were up to twice as high for pupils who ate breakfast, compared with those who did not.

Many schools have been running breakfast clubs for a number of years now, predominately for two main reasons: flexibility for working families and to provide a nutritious breakfast for youngsters so that they can start the day in the right frame of mind.

My good friend recommended kippers on toast for the children due to the meal's excellent health benefits.

My good friend recommended kippers on toast for the children due to the meal's excellent health benefits.

Schools run the clubs with carefully managed menus and offer a healthy start to the day. Sadly, there are still many children who arrive at school having missed this meal.

The research found that eating a good breakfast made up of dairy, cereal, fruit and bread could improve educational performance, while eating unhealthy items such as sweets and crisps for breakfast, which was reported by one in five children, had no positive impact on educational attainment.

‘Why would a parent give a child crisps and sweets for breakfast?’ I hear you ask. Believe me; it happens.

Hannah Littlecott, the lead author of the study, said: “While breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with general health outcomes and acute measures of concentration and cognitive function, evidence regarding links to concrete educational outcomes has, until now, been unclear. This study therefore offers the strongest evidence yet of links between aspects of what pupils eat and how well they do at school, which has implications for education and public health policy.”

According to 2012 figures quoted in the report, nearly 50% of schools in England already provide breakfast clubs for pupils, particularly in areas of deprivation, and in Wales there is a free breakfast initiative for primary schools. All three of my schools offer breakfasts; I make that 100%! Wednesday mornings at Middleton are a particular favourite of mine when bacon makes an appearance on the menu.

Carmel McConnell works for Magic Breakfast, a charity providing around 22,000 free breakfasts for children across the country. She estimates that over half a million children are arriving at school too hungry to learn. She is of course absolutely right; I know of teachers who often provide snacks for hungry children in their classrooms. We need to make sure that our children’s basic needs are met, well before we can even begin to teach them anything.

I discussed this matter earlier in the week with the locals in Pocklington’s Toddys Bar. My good friend Vince recommended providing kippers on toast for the children. With the Omega 3, proven to have excellent health benefits, I think he might be onto something.

I will have a word with the cook this week and let you know how we get on...