Written evidence submitted by Magic Breakfast

Magic Breakfast Submission to the Education Select Committee Inquiry on the Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Children’s services

Executive Summary

  1. Magic Breakfast is a national charity that delivers food and provides expert support to schools to ensure the most disadvantaged children have access to a healthy breakfast, without barrier or stigma, at the start of the school day. We currently work with 480 schools in England and Scotland. We also partner with Family Action to implement the Department for Education (DfE) funded initiative, The National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP), in an additional 1,800 schools.
  2. This submission focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged children in the short and long term. COVID-19 has led to increased levels of food insecurity amongst children. Increased food insecurity combined with unequal access to learning will lead to a wider educational attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier, better nourished peers. The impact of COVID-19 on the economy has also created a new group of children that now fall within the definition of ‘disadvantaged’.
  3. Magic Breakfast welcomes the initial steps the DfE has taken to ensure that children who would normally receive a free breakfast or lunch at school continue to do so. However, some very significant challenges remain, particularly with regards to the national supermarket voucher scheme and we urge the DfE to urgently address these issues.
  4. During the continuing COVID-19 crisis as well as the recovery period, the Government must prioritise interventions to tackle the educational attainment gap, including school breakfast provision.
    1. Recommendation: Magic Breakfast recommends that free school meal provision and the NSBP are extended over the summer holidays, in order to support disadvantaged children catching up on learning they have lost out on during school closures.
    2. Recommendation: The NSBP has demonstrated the positive impact school breakfasts can have on disadvantaged children’s education, however the programme currently reaches less than 20% of children at risk of hunger and provides schools with only short term funding (1 – 2 years). Building on the success of this programme, Magic Breakfast recommends the Government introduces school breakfast legislation, to provide schools with the long term support they need to reach all children at risk of hunger.
  5. While programmes addressing the educational attainment gap will be more important than ever during this time, the way they are delivered will have to adapt to the new reality schools are operating in. This might include rethinking what schools can realistically be expected to monitor and report on, while they juggle a long list of new responsibilities. It will also include adapting delivery models to accommodate social distancing guidelines.


COVID-19 will lead to a larger educational attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers.

  1. A significant proportion of children rely on school for access to food. 1.3 million or 15.4% of pupils were eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) as of January 2019[1]. 280,000 children received a free school breakfast through the NSBP[2]. During COVID-19 related school closures, these children risked losing access to food they would normally have eaten at school. This, combined with the impact of COVID-19 on wages, jobs and the wider economy has led to increased levels of food insecurity amongst children.
  2. A survey carried out by the Food Foundation and YouGov found that in the first five weeks of lockdown food insecurity amongst children doubled, affecting 2 million children. This includes, 900,000 children who have relied on low cost food, 1.2 million children who have not had balanced meals, 350,000 children who have not had enough to eat and 238,000 who have skipped meals[3].
  3. Increased levels of food insecurity amongst children during COVID-19 will lead to an increased educational attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier, better nourished peers. Hungry children struggle to focus on lessons, whether they are taught at school or at home and achieve worse results. For example, a rapid review of child food insecurity in the UK carried out by the National Institute for Health Research in 2018, highlighted several studies which found that children’s academic outcomes were negatively impacted by food insecurity[4]. A study from the University of Leeds published in 2019 found that children who rarely ate breakfast scored, on average, two grades lower on their GSCEs than children who frequently ate breakfast[5].
  4. The following quotes, from children Magic Breakfast works with, illustrate how children describe the impact of hunger on their ability to learn, and reinforce the evidence and research above: [When I am hungry] I feel tired and stressed, like I can’t concentrate on lessons; I like to eat breakfast as school because otherwise I will get really hungry during class (especially maths) and I won’t concentrate well.
  5. Food insecurity is not the only issue that is contributing to a widening educational attainment gap during COVID-19. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds also struggle with less access to technology, less access to online teaching and more challenging learning environments[6].

The impact of COVID-19 on the economy has also created a new group of children that now fall within the definition of ‘disadvantaged


  1. COVID-19 has had far reaching consequences for the economy and has impacted wages and jobs significantly, with 73% of households indicating a loss of income[7]. The Office of Budget Responsibility predicts the level of unemployment will continue to rise and that there will be 2.4 million additional people unemployed by Q2 of 2020[8]. According to DWP, 1.8 million people have applied for Universal Credit as of 4 May[9]
  2. This means that some families that were managing before COVID-19 without any external support are now be struggling. This is leading to a new group of families and their children that we need to consider within our definition of ‘disadvantaged’.
  3. Magic Breakfast’s experience working with schools since school closures began has shown that this is particularly applicable to families with parents on zero hours contracts who are not able to access the government’s furlough scheme;  families with no recourse to public funds; children living in homes where parents’ mental health has been adversely affected by the current situation; and families claiming Universal Credit for the first time who then have a 5 week wait before funds arrive.


Magic Breakfast welcomes the initial steps taken by the Government to ensure children at risk of hunger continue to access the food they would normally have received at school, but significant challenges remain.


  1. The Government established a centrally-funded national voucher scheme to support children eligible for free school meals (FSM) who were not attending school. Children eligible for FSM can receive a voucher worth £15 per week which can be spent in select supermarkets. Schools also have the option to provide meals or food parcels through their normal food providers or provide alternative vouchers not part of the national voucher scheme.
  2. Magic Breakfast welcomes the Government’s decision to extend the scheme to some children who have no recourse to public funds and to children as they newly become eligible for FSM.
  3. The national voucher scheme has come with significant challenges that urgently need to be addressed by the DfE. Families and schools report:
    1. Long online queues to gain access to the online system to claim their vouchers
    2. Issues at the till when trying to redeem the voucher in store
    3. Issues related to through which retailers the vouchers could be redeemed.
    4. Issues related to the stigma of using vouchers
    5. Issues related to lack of WIFI connectivity. Families without WIFI have been unable to download their vouchers.
    6. Technical errors: 12% of families received the voucher codes but were unable to download the voucher itself because of technical errors[10].
    7. Availability and accessibility: By the 4th of May 33% of children eligible for FSM had still not received any substitute[11]. While this had decreased to 23% by May 18, there are still 370,000 children who have not received any FSM substitute[12].

School Breakfasts

  1. The Government funds free school breakfasts through the NSBP. The NSBP was established in March 2018 and is implemented by Family Action and Magic Breakfast. The programme supports primary and secondary schools as well as SEN schools and Pupil Referral Units. Schools supported by the NSBP normally receive weekly or fortnightly food deliveries and use a combination of delivery models to reach children at risk of hunger with a healthy and free breakfast. This could include a sit down breakfast club, a playground provision, a classroom provision or a grab and go provision.
  2. When school closures were announced, the DfE engaged in constructive discussions with Family Action and Magic Breakfast and agreed the following modifications to the NSBP:
    1. Food deliveries have been altered to contain supplies better suited for ‘take home breakfast packs’. Each ‘take home breakfast pack’ includes 1 box of cereal or 1 box of Quaker Oats Porridge, 1 bag of 5 ambient New York Bagel Company bagels and 1 extra-large tin of Heinz Beanz. The packs contain enough food for at least two weeks’ worth of breakfasts.
    2. Food deliveries continue to schools that remain open and able to accept deliveries. Schools are either arranging for families to collect their take home breakfast packs from the school or are arranging for deliveries to families’ homes. Schools have been advised on how to follow social distancing guidelines.
    3. Schools that are closed have been offered the option to designate an alternative delivery site for food deliveries. Schools that have taken up this option have designated food banks, community centres and in some cases teachers’ homes. Schools are then arranging for collections or deliveries from the alternative delivery site.
  3. Magic Breakfast welcomes the constructive approach DfE has taken to enable modifications to the NSBP during COVID-19. Inevitable challenges still remain. The NSBP is currently delivering to just over 1,000 schools, compared to 1,800 before COVID-19 began. The NSBP continues to have the budget, logistical capacity and necessary food supplies to deliver to all 1,800 schools however, not all schools are in a position to engage with the programme at this time.
  4. Even during COVID-19 our delivery model relies on schools being contactable and having the capacity to engage. Some schools are fully closed and don’t have anyone on site to accept food deliveries. Some schools are not able to allocate staff time to arranging the distribution of breakfast packs. We cannot underestimate the enormous pressure schools are under during this time, as they have been asked to take on a multitude of new and complicated responsibilities.
  5. Even where schools are open and able to accept deliveries, most schools are able to reach fewer children than before. This is because the schools themselves are organising collections and deliveries of take home breakfast packs after they are delivered to the school. This makes it more difficult for schools to reach children than if they were offering breakfast in the classroom just before lessons, or handing out breakfast on the playground or at the school gate.
  6. Magic Breakfast supports 480 schools independently of the NSBP. One strategy we have employed with these schools, to enable us to reach more children, is to offer the option of home deliveries. Home deliveries are set up so that the take home breakfast packs are delivered directly from our warehouse to families’ doors. After the initial set up phase, this distribution method reduces the burden on schools. It also means we are better prepared for any future school closures as the infrastructure for reaching children at home will be set up.

As the country moves towards recovery from COVID-19, Government must prioritise interventions to tackle the growing educational attainment gap, including school breakfasts

Holiday Hunger

  1. Children at risk of hunger are already likely to be behind as a result of COVID-19 school closures. Many have experienced food insecurity since the crisis began, making it difficult to concentrate on lessons. They have also had less access to learning. Allowing these children to go hungry over the upcoming summer holidays risks disadvantaged children coming back to school in September even further behind. We can help children catch up and begin to tackle the attainment gap, by ensuring disadvantaged children do not go hungry over the holidays.
  2. There is a strong evidence base which sets out the negative impact of holiday hunger on children’s ability to learn. The APPG on Hunger has previously found that even the typical seven week summer holidays negatively impact disadvantaged children’s learning and health. Teachers reported disadvantaged children return to school malnourished and sluggish, with visible weight changes[13]. This impacts learning, with a study from Northumbria University finding that following summer holidays, it took students seven weeks of teaching to make up the learning lost over the holidays[14].
  3. We need to be focusing on making up for learning lost during COVID-19, not allowing disadvantaged children to fall further and further behind.
  4. During COVID-19 school closures, DfE and many other organisations have proven that it is possible to support children at risk of hunger outside of term time, either by using schools as food collection and delivery hubs or by issuing supermarket vouchers.
  5. DfE already set a precedent by making the decision to extend the national supermarket voucher scheme, over the Easter Holidays and over May half term. DfE similarly agreed that NSBP food deliveries could take place in the second week of Easter Holidays and agreed that food deliveries could take place over May half term holidays. The Welsh Government has already confirmed that it will continue to fund free school meals throughout the summer holidays.
  6. Recommendation: Now that it is clear we have the capability to support children at risk of hunger even when schools are closed, we need the political will. The Government must confirm that it will continue supporting free school breakfasts and free school lunches during the summer holidays.
  7. If holiday hunger is not addressed, disadvantaged children will go hungry and will fall further behind, widening the educational attainment gap has already grown during COVID-19.

School Breakfast Legislation

  1. The success achieved by the NSBP demonstrates the impact that free, healthy school breakfast provision can have on child hunger, health and wellbeing, but the programme provides only short term (1 -2 years) funding to schools and reaches less than 20% of children estimated to be at risk of hunger.
  2. As outlined above, the number of children at risk of hunger is estimated to have significantly increased as a result of COVID-19. Interventions like free school breakfasts will now be more important than ever.
  3. Recommendation: To ensure children at risk of hunger have permanent, consistent, sustainable access to a free school breakfast legislation is needed. A School Breakfast Bill would guarantee schools with the highest levels of deprivation the support they need to reach children at risk of hunger. This would bring schools breakfasts up to par with the existing legislation on free school lunches.
  4. Magic Breakfast and Feeding Britain’s proposals for a School Breakfast Bill are outlined in more detail in this parliamentary briefing. We are working closely with Emma Lewell- Buck MP on this proposal and she hopes to table the School Breakfast Bill in October. We ask MPs across the House to consider supporting this Bill.

Service delivery in schools will need to adapt to the new, more challenging, environment schools are operating in and will need to comply with social distancing guidelines.

  1. Adaptations to delivery models will need to be considered even once schools return. For example, sit down breakfast clubs may need to be complimented by other delivery models developed during COVID-19 school closures, in light of social distancing guidelines. Take home breakfast packs and home deliveries of breakfast packs may need to continue. Building up capacity to enable home deliveries is likely to contribute to resilience in case of a future similar national emergency.
  2. We will need to adjust expectations of what schools can realistically be expected to do as they continue to juggle a long list of new responsibilities. Programmes should prepare to reduce focus on data collection, monitoring and evaluation, meeting targets and expected outcomes, and best practice sharing in the short term.
  3. Budgets should shift emphasis to focus on the most important elements of a programme. For example, for school food provision programmes that might mean reallocating money originally intended to support best practice sharing events and staff travel towards food procurement, storage and delivery.


[1] Department for Education (2019). Schools, pupils and their characteristics.

[2] National School Breakfast Programme (2019). Food for Thought.

[3] Food Foundation (2020) The Impact of Coronavirus on Food.

[4] Aceves-Martins et al. (2018) Child food insecurity in the UK: a rapid review

[5] Adolphus et al. (2019) Associations Between Habitual School-Day Breakfast Consumption Frequency and Academic Performance in British Adolescents.

[6] The Sutton Trust (2020). Covid-19 and Social Mobility.

[7] Resolution Foundation (2020). . The economic effects of Coronavirus in the UK.

[8] Office for Budget Responsibility (2020) Coronavirus analysis.

[9] BBC News (2020) Coronavirus: Nearly two million claim universal credit.

[10] Food Foundation (2020) The Impact of Coronavirus on Food.

[11] Food Foundation (2020) The Impact of Coronavirus on Food.

[12] Food Foundation (2020) The impact of Coronavirus on food: How have things changed since the start of lockdown?

[13] APPG on Hunger (2015) Hungry Holidays.


May 2020