The National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP) aimed to provide free, nutritious and universally available breakfast in schools in disadvantaged areas of England. The Department for Education awarded an initial contract of £24 million to two charities, Family Action and Magic Breakfast, to co-lead the NSBP for a two-year period beginning in 2018.
While funding for the NSBP was subsequently extended until March 2021, this evaluation specifically focuses on the scale up of the programme from August 2018 – March 2020. During this period, the NSBP supported breakfast provision in 1,811 schools delivered through several models, including a traditional sit-down breakfast club; a healthy ‘grab and go’ breakfast in the playground or school entrance; and classroom breakfast, in the form of a ‘soft start’ where classrooms opened early for breakfast.
This evaluation used a mixed methods approach to evaluate the scale-up process of the NSBP, including programme changes made as part of the scale-up process, the costs of the programme and lessons for future scale-up efforts. A previous EEF impact evaluation of the Magic Breakfast programme found that offering pupils in primary schools a free and nutritious meal before school can boost their reading, writing, and maths attainment by an average of two months’ additional progress in Key Stage 1. The result had a low to moderate security rating.
This scale-up evaluation found that the NSBP met its recruitment targets, successfully enrolling 1,811 schools. It also achieved extensive reach within schools, with 38.6% of children at NSBP schools served breakfast compared to 6.5% of children before the intervention started. Schools were eligible to take part if at least 50% of their pupils were from disadvantaged areas (defined using the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index) and if they had either no existing breakfast provision, or provision that had scope for improvement.
The chosen scale-up strategy provided a high degree of support to schools and enabled effective targeting of pupils in need. In the previous evaluation of the Magic Breakfast programme, schools were mainly encouraged to adopt a traditional sit-down breakfast club in the school hall or canteen. In contrast, the NSBP encouraged schools to consider alternative breakfast provision models from the outset, including a healthy ‘grab and go’ breakfast in the playground or school entrance, or a ‘soft start’ where classrooms opened early for breakfast.
Whether the adoption of alternative breakfast provision models changes the impacts of the intervention on pupils is unknown and beyond the scope of this evaluation. However, compared to the traditional breakfast club model, the alternative models promoted by the NSBP reached more pupils, required less staffing and were cheaper. Ensuring the sustainability of the programme after the initial period of funded support proved a challenge for the NSBP. The tight timeline for the scale-up process and the need to focus on expansion of the programme at the same time as embedding it in schools contributed to this challenge. Based on this, one of the lessons for future scale-up efforts drawn from this evaluation is the need to focus early on ensuring the intervention can be maintained in the longer term.
There were originally plans to conduct two ‘innovation projects’ alongside the scale-up evaluation of the NSBP, to pilot approaches for improving parental engagement and attendance at breakfast provision. However, based on exploratory research findings and difficulties recruiting schools to participate in the pilot phases, a decision was made not to continue with Innovation Project 1, which was being led by the EEF and the Behavioural Insights Team. The high-level journey of this project and lessons learned for future innovation pilots are described in the Lessons Learned Report and initial work conducted on the project is summarised in the Explore Report. Innovation Project 2, which was led by Fit 2 Communicate, Family Action and Magic Breakfast, was completed as planned.
- The NSBP successfully recruited 1,811 schools, exceeding the initial target of 1,775 and equalling the revised target. Within these schools the reach of the programme was extensive, with 38.6% of children at NSBP schools served breakfast compared to 6.5% before the intervention started.
- The high degree of direction and support provided to schools by the NSBP was important to the successful reach of the programme. This included financial support in the form of grants, resource-based support through provision of free food and promotional materials, and support provided by trained NSBP staff members (School Partners).
- The scale-up strategy did not sufficiently address sustainability at the outset. The programme focused mainly on expanding the number of schools and pupils receiving breakfast due to tight timelines and ambitious school recruitment, with a lesser focus on ensuring schools would be able to sustain breakfast provision after the initial period of funded support.
- The NSBP addressed most concerns highlighted in the original evaluation of Magic Breakfast published in 2019 and adopted a more flexible approach, encouraging schools to consider a range of breakfast options from the outset rather than primarily endorsing a traditional breakfast club model. Whether adopting alternative models changes the impact of the programme on pupils is unknown and beyond the scope of this evaluation. However, the alternative models promoted by the NSBP reached more pupils, required less staffing, and were cheaper.
- Provision accessibility was rated highly by NSBP staff conducting breakfast visits and most schools had reasonable strategies to identify and target pupils in need, with the result that attendance of disadvantaged pupils equalled or exceeded attendance of non-disadvantaged pupils in most schools. However, most schools levied at least some charge for breakfast provision on some students.