First UK Trial on the Impact of Free Breakfasts on Pupils’ Attainment

The impact of free school breakfasts on academic progress is one of six new trials to be funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). The EEF today announced funding for a year-long study of school breakfasts involving 36,000 pupils in 200 schools across England.

Breakfast clubs are currently offered by nearly 80% of schools in England. In this study a team from the Institute for Fiscal Studies will compare the impact of clubs where all children, regardless of income, get a free breakfast versus clubs where only pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) get breakfast free. In the second scheme other pupils would be able to attend and pay for their breakfast. The study will also examine whether there is a difference in attainment between breakfast clubs which operate before school and those held during school hours.

As the number of schools wanting to offer free breakfasts increases, the EEF’s study will provide more information to schools about the impact of breakfast on attainment and a timely analysis of the most cost effective way of delivering this provision.

This research is also likely to have significant public policy implications. The recently published School Food Plan, which has the support of Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, recommends that breakfast clubs should be set up in schools with the highest levels of deprivation. The Government is funding the charity Magic Breakfast to provide breakfasts in schools with high numbers of FSM pupils. Previous UK research has shown that breakfast provision has a positive impact on attendance and concentration but its effect on attainment is not known.

News of this trial comes as Magic Breakfast offers over 19,600 extra free breakfasts to pupils taking their Year 6 SATs this week. The charity currently delivers regular breakfast provision to 250 schools and has a further 272 schools on its waiting list.

Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Having a good breakfast is something which many of us take for granted as a good start to the day, and has been shown to make a real difference to pupils' concentration. What we don't know enough about is how to deliver free breakfasts to get the best impact on attainment. This project will help us understand whether offering all children a free breakfast results in better outcomes for those pupils eligible for free school meals, by reducing stigma and increasing uptake, or whether self-financing breakfast clubs, where more affluent pupils pay for their food, are just as effective.

“Around 80% of schools already offer some form of breakfast club, though many do not offer free breakfasts. A rigorous, independent evaluation of how effective free breakfasts are in improving the attainment of the poorest pupils will give schools valuable information. Positive results may encourage more schools to offer free breakfasts or to change the timing of their breakfast provision. This could be a useful tool for schools in their efforts to reduce the gap in educational outcomes between those eligible for free school meals and their more affluent peers.”

Alex Cunningham, Acting CEO of Magic Breakfast, said:

“We are delighted to be working with the EEF on this evaluation project. The increase in the number of schools on our waiting list shows schools are increasingly interested in offering free breakfasts to their pupils. Research has shown that nearly a third (32%) of children in the UK regularly miss breakfast before school and this affects concentration and energy levels. Pupils tell us that they come to school on time to get their free breakfast and that without Magic Breakfast they would have nothing to eat in the morning.”

“Our own research shows that 93% of schools see an increase in concentration and energy amongst children attending our breakfast clubs. Whilst we value schools' assessments of our effectiveness we are looking forward to seeing our work independently tested through a rigorous randomised controlled trial. We want to move the conversation forward, from whether breakfast provision in schools is a good investment to how it can have the greatest impact on pupils.”

The EEF also announced funding for five other projects today including:

  • an assessment of the impact of attending boarding school on children in receipt of Local Authority support
  • an evaluation of the impact of Scratch, a popular, free computer coding programme, on pupils in the final years of primary school
  • an analysis of the impact of using best practice when grouping pupils by attainment in the first two years of secondary school
  • an evaluation of a structured behaviour improvement programme on primary school pupils

All the evaluations the EEF funds are of projects deemed to show promise in narrowing the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers.


  • 1.The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement through evidence-based research. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £41 million to 78 projects working with over 560,000 pupils in over 2,900 schools across England.
  • 2 .Magic Breakfast is an independent charity which provides free, nutritious breakfasts (bagels, cereal, porridge, fresh orange juice), to over 8,500 primary school pupils in more than 252 schools across England. It supports schools where more than 35% of pupils are eligible for Free School Meals by helping them set up and run their own breakfast clubs.
  • 3. View the six new projects here.