Food for Thought. Breakfast Clubs and Their Challenges by Cathy Street and Peter Kenway (1999).

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. You may recall that in February this year we created a LibGuide and published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.


Our focus has now moved to the over 400 other organisations included in the donation. Some of these were and still are well known, others are special interest groups that offer a unique perspective on the key educational issues of the day. This week we thought we would share some of the ‘gems’ that we’ve discovered so far and the item we are focusing on today is Food for Thought. Breakfast Clubs and Their Challenges by Cathy Street and Peter Kenway (1999).


The purpose of the report is clearly stated at the beginning:

This report discusses the state of development of breakfast clubs in the United Kingdom with the key aim of improving the state of information about a topical but, relatively under-researched, area of out-of-school provision. Specifically it seeks to:

  • describe what breakfast clubs ‘on the ground’ are like.
  • examine why they were formed, how they operate and how many children use them.
  • identify and analyse the problems that appear common to many clubs.
  • discuss the opportunities and challenges for government and policy makers.


The final report would be of use to those currently or planning to organise a Breakfast Club and also to policy makers responsible for services for children and their families.

The report was based on a study which included interviews with the staff of a representative sample of 35 clubs. Clubs from urban and rural areas were included, some of which were established whilst others were newly organised. All the clubs served food.

The answer to the question ‘What is a Breakfast Club?’ is not straightforward. They are an example of before-school provision but while some are school based, others use community facilities. Some concentrate on learning support or childcare whilst others focus on promoting healthy eating or good dental care. Not all Breakfast Clubs provide food. Of course all this diversity can cause confusion which might explain why there has been little detailed information about Breakfast Clubs. A situation which the authors hope will be remedied by their report.

Although very diverse there are some common features of most Breakfast Clubs. A basic distinction can be drawn between clubs founded with children’s interests paramount – supporting their education; improving health and nutrition; teaching dental health; offering social opportunities – and those founded with needs of parents, especially for childcare, uppermost.

Some of the predominating characteristics of the clubs surveyed included:

  • Most clubs use school-premises, serve only that school and only operate during school terms.
  • Clubs are typically open for about 45 minutes to one hour, from about 8am.
  • Most clubs cater for primary age children.
  • Most clubs are run by school staff (who are paid extra for it)


Information about the total number of clubs had to be estimated using information from a variety of sources. Between 400 and 600 clubs were in operation but of course clubs were closing or starting up all the time. On average 15 children attended each club each day but not every child attended on every day. Total attendance is estimated to be between 18,000 and 27,000 children.

The two main problem areas concerning the development and sustainability of breakfast clubs were identified as funding and staffing.

Breakfast clubs in more deprived areas are dependent on other sources of funding because they cannot charge enough to cover costs. Clubs may get funds to start up but then be expected to raise funds themselves which can be very time consuming. Many sources of funding are aimed at new enterprises and cannot be accessed by established clubs.

It is difficult to get parents and others to volunteer to staff a breakfast club. Rules about benefits make it hard for parents to be employed to run the clubs and the early start and short time involved also make for unattractive working hours. If the clubs are run as an ‘extra’ by school staff then funds have to be found from already overstretched school budgets and there is a lot of additional work and responsibility.

The biggest challenge that policy makers face if breakfast clubs are really to help with what children eat in the morning is to find ways of lessening the pressure that almost all the clubs currently seem to face to reduce their expenditure on food as far as possible. This does seem vital or else the breakfast part of their name will only refer to the time of day breakfast clubs are held.

Although published in 1999 the Report’s Appendix 2 : Summary of Research Findings Regarding Health, Education and Childcare contains information which is so recognisable today on the low consumption of fruit and vegetables, the rise in childhood obesity, the rate of dental caries and childhood poverty.

Not surprisingly, in April 2018 the National Education Union (NEU) and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) published a joint survey entitled Child poverty and education: A survey of the experiences of NEU members.


The scale of the donation means that these items have not yet been catalogued – and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide which includes information on the access arrangements that we have put in place for these fascinating items.

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