“A breakfast revolution,” the headline writers called it when the idea of providing all children with free breakfasts in schools was first launched.
Fast forward seven months and the revolution has been realised; more than 11,000 breakfasts are being served every school day and children are no longer starting lessons on an empty stomach.
It’s a sea change for schools, for teachers, for children and for Blackpool Council and, as a nationwide first, I don’t mind the tag “revolution” at all.
As I’ve said all along though we believe it was a vital thing to do – the overwhelming evidence from teachers told us that.
But don’t just take my word for it.
This week saw the release of a study by Northumbria University, who are internationally renowned for their research into school meals and, in particular, breakfasts.
Their team of respected academics, including developmental psychologists, health psychologists, nutritionists and statisticians, studied a sample of Blackpool schools to analyse the effectiveness of the pilot.
And their findings were overwhelmingly positive, concluding that children were eating more healthy items for breakfast, as well as feeling happier and more alert.
They found the benefits we envisaged for classroom punctuality and performance were becoming a reality.
On top of that, 70 per cent of children are taking part – an uptake level we are satisfied with given the need for parental opt-out choice.
The study also found that making breakfast available to all children – rather than offering them on a means-tested basis – was preventing the stigmatisation that can come with providing a scheme for a limited few.
The researchers, led by Dr Margaret Defreyter, also picked up on a few interesting new points.
They suggested that we look at the start time of breakfast, indicating that starting earlier could help punctuality, while suggesting that it may be better to ensure children eat the breakfast outside classrooms, rather than in as some schools have chosen to do, to prevent disruption.
They suggested healthier alternatives to some of the current products on offer and suggested further training of staff on nutritional knowledge and other aspects.
And they also suggested further engagement with parents, schools and governors is crucial to ensure the scheme is beneficial in the long term.
These are issues staff have been picking up throughout too and which we will be considering ahead of the new school year.
A final point which we have also seized upon is the need for further work to improve children’s health, this time through exercise.
I can announce today that we will also be considering a proposal to introduce online exercise programme “Cyber Coach Smart” into all primary school classrooms.
This programme has been developed specifically for use in primary classes, allowing teachers to stream exercise routines onto whiteboards via the internet, and averting the need for specialist coaching training or hugely expensive sporting facilities.
We hope the programme, coupled with making sure children receive a healthy and nutritious breakfast each day, will give youngsters a much better chance at succeeding in education and in life.
Finally, I thank all parents, pupils and the Blackpool residents who have supported the idea. Long may it continue.
Viva la breakfast revolution!