A Canadian inspired scheme offering Scots pupils the chance to pick up a free breakfast from a mobile cart before class is to be extended to other UK schools following a successful pilot.
The ‘grab-n-go’ scheme is based on a similar model also commonly used in the US that aims to encourage and make it easier for children to eat nutritious food before class.
During the pilot, every pupil in two primaries and a secondary school in East Renfrewshire was offered free cereal, toast, and fruit before lessons.
Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University surveyed almost 500 pupils and 39 teachers during an initial trial in Barrhead and found many children skip breakfast completely before school.
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It was most common in secondary school pupils – with 63% not eating every morning – compared to just seven percent of primary age children.
Girls in secondary school were more likely than boys to skip breakfast, with 34% never eating before school.
Before the trial, two-thirds of the secondary school teachers surveyed said pupils who missed out on eating in the morning were less able to concentrate, lacked energy, and were less engaged in learning. Staff were able to recall specific examples of this.
Pupils could help themselves to food from a breakfast cart, either before the start of the school day, or during the first half hour.
Professor John McKendrick, co-director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “An overwhelming majority of teachers were in favour of schools offering breakfast food provision.
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“The teachers surveyed were able to recall specific examples of students engaging less in learning on account of not eating breakfast.
“We also observed and talked with pupils. It is clear that the breakfast cart provided a service that was used and welcomed by staff and pupils alike.
“Over the course of five weeks, 827 children collected food from the cart. The vast majority of pupils lifted toast, 75%, with one quarter picking up at least one piece of fruit.”
Tarbolton Primary, in Ayrshire, was one of the first schools to receive a permanent cart following the trial and a further 17 are now being funded.
The pilot was the result of a partnership between The Greggs Foundation, Glasgow Caledonian University, East Renfrewshire Council, catering companies E&R Moffat and Brakes, and Lindsay Graham, of the Poverty and Inequality Commission Scotland.
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Mr Graham said: “In the current pandemic times this model could prove to be useful to help with delivery of breakfasts, lunch, and other food service opportunities like supper or after school clubs at the end of a school day.
In November last year, Deputy First Minister John Swinney pledged that the SNP would provide free breakfasts and lunches to all Scottish school pupils, declaring “hunger doesn’t take a holiday so neither can we.”
The Deputy First Minister said the programme would be implemented from August 2022, making Scotland the first nation in the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.
Every Primary School pupil will be eligible for free breakfast and lunch, all year round if the SNP are re-elected in May.
Lynne Hindmarch, Breakfast Club Manager, Greggs Foundation, said: “We were delighted at the positive outcome of the carts. They work well with minimal staff and supervision required with higher participation rates.
“Greggs Foundation are delighted to be able to purchase several carts to use within our current breakfast club schools and we are hoping to roll this out further in the long term.”