Managing food poverty

Among the local authorities we spoke to, there was a general perception that recent increases in financial stress would lead to food poverty in most local authority areas. Two key mechanisms to address this were discussed: food banks and the direct provision of meals.

Firstly, the role of well-supported and adequate food banks appeared crucial. Many local authorities were in the process of mapping their food bank provisions, to both identify gaps and ensure they can develop correct signposting techniques for families in distress. Partnering with grass roots organisations to ensure an adequate food bank network was considered crucial. On top of this, one project discussed was attempting to turn food banks in to holistic ‘hubs’ capable of delivering additional support, by working with other voluntary sector organisations to see if food bank services could be co-located with information, advice and guidance specialists, for example.

Secondly, there was much discussion about the additional need to ensure healthy meal provision for families, beyond emergency food parcels. Working in partnership to establish lunch and breakfast clubs appeared to be popular approaches. Some lunch clubs were being established in work clubs, to both ensure that job seekers can access healthy meals, and encourage them to use work club services. Working with schools to deliver free breakfasts and free lunches also appeared to be a popular approach to tackling food poverty for children.

Some local authorities in London, including Newham, Southwark, Islington and Tower Hamlets, have worked to extend free school meal provision, to tackle food poverty. Currently, entitlement to free school meals is largely only available to children whose parents are out of work, so that ‘working poor’ families miss out. These local authorities have implemented some degree of universal free school meals to ensure that ‘working poor’ families do not miss out. While this clearly has budget implications, many local authorities have been able to meet this, and this approach has many pay-offs.

  • When universal free school meals were piloted in Newham, there was a significant positive impact on attainment for primary school pupils at key stages 1 (age7) and 2 (age 11). Pupils in the pilot areas making between four and eight weeks more progress over two years than similar pupils in comparison area.1
  • Meeting the cost of free school meals would reduce poverty among working parents.
  • Universal free school meals reduce the stigma of claiming that still exists for many children, and ensure that all parents have an interest in ensuring that free school meals provide a healthy nutritious lunch.

Partly in recognition of these benefits, the Government has announced that from September 2014 free school meals will be provided for all school children in Reception and Years 1 and 2 in English schools. Beyond extending free school meal provision, many schools themselves have been working on tackling food poverty through breakfast clubs and after school snacks, such as the Beech Hill Primary School.

Beech Hill Primary School and food poverty

Beech Hill Primary is an outstanding school in West Denton, formerly Linhope First School. In the first year of having year 6 as a primary, the results put the school in the bottom 3 per cent of the country. Following a complete change of leadership, a focus on teaching and learning and a zero tolerance attitude to behaviour, the SAT results put Beech Hill in the top 10 per cent of schools in the country. In September 2008, following an inspection by OFSTED, Beech Hill was given an outstanding rating. This reflected the excellent teaching and learning, the strong leadership and the rapid progress made by all pupils. Our relentless focus on supporting children to become independent life long learners and ensuring they are adequately nourished and cared for has resulted in the results remaining well above national averages at the end of key stage 2. We currently have 369 children on roll, around 50 per cent of whom are eligible for free school meals. The school offers three types of ‘extra’ food provision to tackle hunger: breakfast clubs, seconds at lunch and snack provided at after school clubs/booster classes.

Breakfast clubs

Numbers at breakfast club vary on a daily basis but increased dramatically when it became funded and breakfast was free of charge. Prior to Greggs’ involvement we did run a breakfast club which charged a nominal fee which was attended by around 20 children. This increased to around 70 and fluctuates around this figure. Our strong belief in the need for children to feel safe and experience warmth and nourishment in order to grow and be able to learn is a driver behind our philosophies. Some of our pupils may arrive at school late without having breakfast, latecomers will be asked if they have had breakfast and will be offered fruit or breakfast bars if necessary.

 The staff (and sometimes parents) who run breakfast club are volunteers who use a designated area and their own equipment (provided by Greggs) to prepare food so there is no cost to the school in terms of offering this provision.

Offering seconds at lunch

We are very aware that for some of our children, their school dinner may be the only nutritionally balanced meal they have during the day. Seconds are offered to children at lunchtime; on average around 30 per cent will take this up. Because this food would otherwise be disposed of, this policy has no impact on the school budget and decreases wastage. There is no evidence to suggest that it is predominantly free school meals children who ask for seconds.

Having spoken to some year 6 children who stay for school dinners, they are clear that being offered seconds is a good thing:

‘it is a good decision to give children seconds instead of letting it go to waste’

Providing food in after school classes/clubs

Booster lessons take place across school focusing on those children who are making less than expected progress and therefore the number fluctuates. Teachers offer juice and biscuits/cakes etc mid session to avoid the sugar dip, this provision is funded through school fund using money generated by Beech Hill hosting University teaching students throughout the year.

Kangaroo club is paid for out of pupil premium as an after school club which develops social skills as well as offering children extra support with their learning. Part of the session between 3.15 and 5 o’clock includes quiet time for children 1-1 reading with an adult or older child who has been trained to hear readers; completing homework with support where necessary; phonics and times tables practice as well as tasks provided by the class teacher to consolidate prior learning. Toast and juice are provided by school as well as biscuits and sometimes cake which is often brought in by parents when a request is sent out; this illustrates the value put on the club by parents. Staff from the club report that however much toast they provide at the beginning of the session – children invariably ask for more.

While pupil premium now funds booster, reading interventions and 1-1 tuition, the school has historically used the school budget to provide this form of personalised learning as we know that it allows children to make better than expected progress which is reflected in our outstanding results.

The school is situated in an area of high deprivation. In 2011, Beech Hill was one of the first primary schools in the country to gain the Enterprise and Business Award from Warwick University. This emphasis on enterprise continues in school with skills linked to business such as communication, collaboration and problem solving being part of every lesson.

With thanks to Jess Eatock, Beech Hill Primary.