Our manifesto outlines “22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities” across five key areas. Download your copy.

Dismiss close

Primary / KS1 and KS2Secondary / KS3 and KS4

Education and nutrition – the catch-22 in Catch22

A child sits at the table eating a bowl of cereal. The photograph is taken from above, looking down at the bowl.

As the cost of living crisis increases food bills, many families are finding it increasingly difficult to put food on the table for their children. In this week’s blog, Catch22 Grants Officer, Rob Langham, discusses why our schools are passionate about the benefits that breakfast clubs can bring, and why we are working to find funding to ensure this provision for our students.

The cost of living crisis, amongst other factors, means more and more people are going hungry. This is extremely concerning, especially when it relates to those who are vulnerable (who are more likely to be affected by ill health in the first instance), or to children who, without proper nutrition, will suffer from delayed growth and development.

A survey of 313 health practitioners in June 2023, found that 65% of practitioners reported children’s health worsening due to hunger and poor nutrition, with links to putting on weight slower, noted changes in their behaviour, and more frequent mental health problems. Lack of nutrition also affects their learning, affecting concentration and health and social problems linked to hunger. The issue is widespread, with frequent reports on the issue making our newspapers and featuring heavily in studies. For example: ‘Nearly one in five parents admit their children don’t always eat breakfast, study finds’ and ‘Four out of ten teachers see children coming to school hungry’.

Catch22 runs four independent schools across the country – Include London, Include Norfolk, Include Suffolk and Include Wales, which provide alternative and special full-time and part-time education for young people aged 4-16 who display a wide range of complex barriers to education. This could include those who are excluded or at risk of exclusion, and those with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs or Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Our Include schools take a young person-centred, holistic approach to education, moving away from the mainstream methods with which learners have had difficulties in the past. The focus is on unblocking the various barriers to learning in order to release their potential. Upon achieving this, our aim is to integrate or re-integrate students into mainstream education, or work with the Local Authority to source the best long term, permanent education setting for our students.

A significant proportion of those attending our schools are presenting as special educational needs and disability (SEND), and are also more likely to experience poverty. As an indicator of how this affects our schools, the numbers of schoolchildren eligible for free school meals at our schools varies but is consistently high: 100% of those who currently attend our Include Wales site and 80% of those at Include London are eligible.

Our schoolchildren already face barriers to education, however these barriers can be exacerbated by hunger, which puts them at even further disadvantage to getting the learning and skills they need. This creates the sort of “catch-22 situation” that our staff work so hard to break the cycle of: when those from lower-income families, who are more at risk of going hungry, face barriers to their education, this can result in lower grades and access to skills, which generally leads to being less likely to gain better-paid employment later in life.

A report into the impact of the National School Breakfast Programme by Family Action and Magic Breakfast found that schools felt that providing breakfast was important or extremely important in positively supporting:

  • readiness to learn (99%),
  • concentration in class (99%),
  • healthy eating habits (95%),
  • general behaviour (94%), and
  • educational attainment (94%).

The study found that following introduction of breakfast provision at schools, there was a 28% reduction in late marks in a term, and a 24% reduction in behavioural incidents.

Recognising the struggles faced by the families of our students in being able to provide a good breakfast in these difficult times, our schools provide breakfast clubs from their own funds, with no charge to the children’s families. This is because we know how important a good breakfast is to the learning taking place, as well as its impact on the wider health and wellbeing of the children and young people that we support.

With our schools already operating under tight budgetary constraints, this highlights the importance placed on the breakfast clubs by the schools providing them. However, at the same time, this emphasises how, if our breakfast clubs could be funded externally, this would make available additional, much-needed funds for the schools to use on their core focus of teaching, such as books, IT equipment, and other educational resources.

“School breakfast clubs, free snacks and FSM (Free School Meals) have without a doubt had an influence on a student’s decision on whether or not to attend. We have found breakfast clubs to be a very successful initiative; they make students feel wanted and contribute to the feeling that school is not simply a place to learn, but it is a community and family upon which they can rely for much more than simply teaching, lessons and exams. It provides a safe space to build trusting relationships, and is very much valued by our students.

“School breakfast clubs demonstrate flexibility and care to those in need, particularly for the parents of our students, many of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged. This wrap-around and targeted support to families who, instead of being told: “give a healthy breakfast to your child, provide activities for your child, bring your child on time to school”, experience the community provide the support needed to do these things. Often in the first instance for them until they feel able to do it for themselves”

Written evidence submitted by Catch22 to Parliament regarding our Include schools

Support, both financially and of food, does exist for breakfast clubs – notably Greggs, Kellogg’s and Magic Breakfast. Our schools have applied for these, but it will come as no surprise to learn that demand is extremely high, with long waiting lists and finite amounts of funding available.

If your organisation would be interested in supporting our schools by sponsoring our Breakfast Clubs or providing assistance in any other way, please do get in touch with our Partnerships team. We would be glad to speak to you.

– Rob Langham, Grants Officer at Catch22