Breakfast clubs are popping up all over the place. They give children extra time to socialise with their friends and ensure they start the morning with a healthy breakfast that should set them up for a day of learning. Many schools do charge a small fee for joining such clubs, but in most cases, for the budget conscious families, it really does pay to be in the breakfast club!
The demands of the breakfast club
The breakfast club runs for an hour before school, and Figaro has now equipped every classroom with “breakfast cards”. If a child has difficulties of any kind during morning lessons, teachers ask about breakfast. If the child hasn’t been fed, the teacher drops a special card in a box, which means that the child can come to the temporary building straight away for something wholesome to eat. But shouldn’t parents just be told: breakfast is fuel for school? Figaro says that more than half her children are from families on benefits, and more than half have a single parent. Some families are too poor to keep much food in the house but more often breakfast is a low priority in a life of multiple jobs and children’s demands.
Breakfast at Randal Cremer Primary School in Hackney is in a cramped temporary building in the playground. Next to me, nursing a coffee, is Sir David Bell, chairman of trustees of the Transformation Trust. He has come to explain the work of his fundraising educational body, which aims to “level the playing field” for some of the poorest schools by giving them the kind of opportunities from which schools in middle-class areas routinely benefit.
“We want these schools to have the same opportunities for extracurricular activities as they do in the private sector,” says Sir David.
At its loftier end this means funding a charity called Shakespeare in Schools, that gives deprived children the chance to perform the bard’s plays at professional theatres. At its most basic, the trust funds the Magic Breakfast charity that gives children something in their belly in the morning. Now celebrating its first anniversary, it has spent several million pounds on half a dozen projects, all from private sector money.
Just a childcare facility?
For years, Figaro had to say just that. Her breakfast club was more of a childcare facility for working parents, unable to fund more than a few slices of white toast — even the juice money was cut. Unlike with school lunches, there is no dedicated money for other meals. Then along came Magic Breakfast, funded largely by the Transformation Trust. Thanks to corporate sponsorship from big food companies there is now plenty of orange juice, wholewheat bagels and fresh fruit on the table. Figaro says that the difference it has made has shocked even her.
“One boy’s behaviour was so bad we were about to exclude him. Before I did, I thought, let’s just try asking him to breakfast club. It was magic — he settled. He was just hungry. So simple.”
So I join the children at one sitting (the cabin is too small for all 40 at once). The children like the chatter: Elaine Cohen, a breakfast club worker, says that for them, socialising around a table can be a new experience. “We’ve given some children their plate and they stand up to eat. I say, ‘Where do you eat at home?’ and they say ‘On the floor, watching TV. We don’t have a table’. They can also bring a lot of emotions in with them — they don’t like mum’s new boyfriend, say, so they don’t want to eat at home.
A hit with the kids
“When pupils get upset in class, our first thought is to run them over here. Mondays are our worst morning [for bad behaviour], I think because of all the bad food they have eaten at the weekend.”
I chat a bit to the children. Most say diplomatically — perhaps wondering what the right answer is — that they like breakfast at home and breakfast club equally. “It’s noisier here and you can’t watch TV,” says one six-year-old girl. But another boy says he loves the club’s bagels. Amid the din, I ask one solemn nine-year-old girl what happens if she doesn’t have breakfast here. “I buy a cup of tea from a café to get something hot,” she tells me. “Then I go to a shop where I know they’ll give me a free sandwich.”
Carmel McConnell, the founder of Magic Breakfast, has worse stories than that. She was running her own management consultancy when she began to write a book about fairness in corporate life. She interviewed some teachers from inner-city schools and was amazed when they told her that they had been forced to bring toasters into class and to pay for fruit out of their own pockets because children were fading away in the mornings. So McConnell resolved that, for a year, she would buy five local primary schools in East London enough food for a good breakfast club.
So it seems that there are few drawbacks of breakfast clubs! They save you money, the kids love them and it gives you an extra few hours to yourself. This is particularly useful for parents who have an early start for work. Look into your local school’s breakfast club ideas and get involved today!