Magic Breakfast

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. 

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. Year 2 children in breakfast club schools experienced around two months’ additional progress compared to Year 2 children in the other schools in the trial. These positive results would be unlikely to occur by chance.

  2. For Year 6 children in breakfast club schools, results for the main outcomes, reading and maths, were positive but could have occurred by chance. However, on other measures of writing and English they experienced around two months’ progress compared to the other Year 6 children. These positive results would be unlikely to occur by chance.

  3. The findings suggest that 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

What is the impact?

The provision of a breakfast club led to an improvement in Key Stage 1 (KS1) outcomes of around two months’ progress, roughly equal to the effect of providing universal free school meals in two pilot areas in 2011 (Brown et al., 2012) that led to the roll-out of that programme in infant school. For KS2 assessments in reading and maths the impact was positive but slightly smaller, and may have been due to chance, so that it is not possible to say with confidence that it was due to the intervention. However, on measures of writing and English, KS2 students in breakfast club schools experienced the equivalent of around two months’ progress compared to Year 6 children in the other schools in the trial. These positive results would be unlikely to occur by chance. The provision of a breakfast club led to larger improvements at KS1 and KS2 for pupils not eligible for free school meals (FSM) than for those eligible, although the effects were positive for both groups. This is despite FSM pupils being slightly more likely to eat breakfast at school as a result of the breakfast club. This either suggests that breakfast club attendance affects outcomes between groups differently, or that there was an indirect effect of the intervention on children who did not actually attend the breakfast club—perhaps because of an improved classroom environment—which was stronger for pupils not eligible for FSM.

Teacher perceptions of classroom behaviour and concentration indicate an improvement in the breakfast club schools relative to the other schools in the trial. These improvements mean that breakfast club provision can have benefits even for children who do not attend by improving their classroom learning environment. These spillovers between pupils could also play a role in explaining the stronger impact of the intervention for non-FSM pupils. Improved behaviour and concentration appears to have fed through to higher attainment, although to a greater extent at KS1 than KS2. Attendance at school also improved for children in breakfast club schools, resulting in about 26 fewer half-days of absence per year for a class of 30. There was no evidence of an impact on the body mass index of Year 6 students. (It was not possible to estimate the effect on Year 2 students’ body mass index as this year group is not part of the National Child Measurement Programme.)

Key factors for successful implementation of the breakfast clubs were: communication with parents to encourage take-up, an established school breakfast routine, and a well-functioning delivery team supported by the wider school. The main challenges were compensating staff for additional hours of work and balancing the supply of, and demand for, food. In some schools, barriers to take-up included earlier start times for pupils, breakfast charges, and a lack of ongoing promotion from the school. 

Group and outcomeNo. of schoolsEffect size (95% confidence interval)Estimated months’ progressSecurity ratingEEF cost rating
Year 2: KS1 maths1020.149 (0.051;0.248)+ 2
Year 2: KS1 reading1020.104 (0.012;0.196)+ 2
Year 2: KS1 writing1020.138 (0.038;0.239)+ 2
Year 6: KS2 reading980.103 (-0.056;0.262)+ 2
Year 6: KS2 maths980.075 (-0.060;0.210)+ 1
KS1 score: FSM 1010.153 (0.068;0.237)+ 2N/A
KS1 score: non-FSM1020.246 (0.152;0.341)+ 3N/A
KS2 score: FSM 980.037 (-0.048;0.122)+ 1N/A
KS2 score: non-FSM980.269 (0.150;0.387)+ 4N/A

How secure is the finding?

The findings above have moderate to high security. The project was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial that compared the progress of pupils in the breakfast club schools to that of a control group of pupils receiving ‘business as usual’. Randomisation was done by the independent evaluator. The trial was large and well-designed, and the number of pupils whose outcomes could not be measured at the end of the study, due to moving schools for example, was relatively low. The trial was an effectiveness trial, aiming to test the intervention under realistic conditions in a large number of schools.

However, around 40% of control schools established some form of breakfast club provision. While in some cases this was very limited, it is likely that some pupils in control schools were benefitting from universal free before-school breakfast clubs which could result in an underestimation of the overall effect of the intervention. 

How much does it cost?

The cost per pupil per year over three years is £11.86, averaged across all pupils in the breakfast club schools. The total cost was, on average, £4,462.11 per school. In addition, schools used 820 person-hours per year to deliver the intervention. On average, this included 87 teacher hours, 449 teaching assistant hours, 164 support staff hours, and 100 volunteer hours over the year.

EEF commentary

The EEF tested the impact of Magic Breakfast clubs on pupil attainment in relatively disadvantaged primary schools. There has been considerable interest in school meals over recent years, 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.

Our 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. 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. This suggests that breakfast clubs provide an opportunity to improve outcomes for all children, not just those who attend breakfast club, through better classroom environments.

Schools should consider breakfast clubs as a cost effective way to raise pupil attainment. Schools wishing to achieve a similar impact of 2 months’ additional progress should aim to deliver a breakfast club similar to the model tested here: free, universal and before school.