This is an updated project page. The original report was published in November 2016, with an update to the report in December 2019. Differences between the two reports are clearly detailed in the updated project report.
The Magic Breakfast project provided schools with support and resources to offer a free, universal, before-school breakfast club, including to all Year 2 and Year 6 pupils. The aim of the project was to improve attainment outcomes by increasing the number of children who ate a healthy breakfast.
A free, universal, before-school breakfast club
The Institute for Fiscal Studies
Organising your school
At the time of funding this project there had been considerable interest in school meals, including the introduction of universal infant free school meals and breakfast club pilots in England, and new policy on breakfast provision in Wales. We funded this project because despite the policy interest, there was limited evidence of the impact of breakfast clubs on attainment. This study was a control group study.
Our updated evaluation found that supporting schools to run a free of charge, universal breakfast club before school delivered an average of 2 months’ additional progress for pupils in Key Stage 1 with moderate to low security. An impact on attainment was not seen for pupils in Key Stage 2. Interestingly, it appears that it was not whether more pupils ate breakfast at all that made the difference, but whether more were going to the school breakfast club. It may be that school breakfasts are more nutritious, or that attending the club effectively prepares pupils for learning. Breakfast club schools also saw an improvement in pupil behaviour and attendance.
Schools considering providing breakfasts may want to focus on Key Stage 1 pupils if their primary aim for doing this is raising attainment and they should also aim to deliver a breakfast club similar to the model tested here: free, universal and before school.
Year 2 children in breakfast club schools made the equivalent of two months’ additional progress compared to Year 2 children in the business as usual control group. This result has a low to moderate security rating. These results are similar to the original results, although they are now less secure.
There is no evidence that breakfast clubs had an impact on Year 6 pupil outcomes. This result has moderate to high security. Compared to the original results, the effect size for Year 6 pupils is lower and less secure.
The findings suggest that, where improvements are seen, it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements but attending a breakfast club. This could be due to the content of the breakfast itself or to other social or educational benefits of the club.
Pupil behaviour, as measured by a teacher survey, improved in breakfast club schools. This is interesting because it shows that breakfast clubs may improve outcomes for children who do not even attend breakfast club by improving classroom environments. This key conclusion is unchanged from the original report.
Activities thought to increase take-up of the breakfast provision included promoting it to parents and encouraging all children to attend while sensitively targeting pupils most likely to benefit. The project required additional staff time which some schools found difficult to provide without charging for breakfast. This key conclusion is unchanged from the original report. All findings from the process evaluation are unaffected by the error in the impact evaluation.
Full project description
The Magic Breakfast project provided 106 schools with support and resources to offer a free, universal, before-school breakfast club, including to all Year 2 and Year 6 pupils. The aim of the project was to improve attainment outcomes by increasing the number of children who ate a healthy breakfast. The schools in the project were schools in England with a relatively high proportion of disadvantaged pupils. The project ran between September 2014 and July 2015. Schools were provided with free food, support from a Magic Breakfast school change leader, and a £300 grant towards up-front costs. The intervention itself was delivered by school staff and volunteers.
The impact of the project was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial involving around 8,600 pupils. The process evaluation involved qualitative research with four case study schools. The project was jointly funded by the Department for Education and the Education Endowment Foundation and delivered by the charity Magic Breakfast.