Food for thought - Stephen Garthwaite, Ysgol y Grango

Source: PSE Dec19/Jan 20


Stephen Garthwaite, headteacher, Ysgol y Grango

In November Ysgol y Grango, the secondary school in Rhosllanerchrugog in Wrexham of which I am headteacher, hosted the launch of the Stop School Hunger / Dysgu Nid Llwgu campaign.  We’re a member of the award-winning community organising charity TCC (Trefnu Cymunedol Cymru / Together Creating Communities) and the campaign we’re running is calling on the Welsh Government to add a daily 80p to the free school meals allowance.  This would allow the poorest children in secondary schools to have the opportunity to have both a nutritious breakfast and lunch.

This all came about because staff at our school realised some pupils who are claiming free school meals are forfeiting the nutritionally balanced lunch the allowance is designed to provide.  They’re doing this because there isn’t enough money at home for breakfast, so they’re spending some of their allowance in the morning and consequently don’t have enough left over for the main lunch.  

We raised the issue with TCC, an alliance of 35 member groups across north east Wales, comprising of schools, community and faith organisations.  A research group formed and surveyed just under 500 pupils (26% of whom claim free school meals) about their breakfast consumption.

It can be tempting to assume that adolescents don’t eat breakfast because they don’t get out of bed in time.  “I’m not a breakfast person” was indeed a common answer.  However, 18% of all the secondary school pupils who responded were unable, or unwilling, to explain why they were coming to school on an empty stomach.  Over 88% of pupils in receipt of free school meals, who buy breakfast at school and then don’t have enough left over for lunch do so for reasons beyond running late or not wanting to have breakfast.  One pupil echoed the responses of their peers and said, “I sometimes buy a piece of toast then can't afford enough for lunch as it goes over my daily allowance”.

The 106 teaching staff we surveyed illuminated what pupils had told us. Forty nine percent ‘sometimes’ provide food to pupils, with 13% doing so ‘often’; 69% referred children for help because they don’t have enough money for food and 75% believe a school breakfast would make a difference.  Teachers said, “their minds would be focused on something other than hunger” and “I have helped pupils with paying for dinner as they have run out of money”. 

We spent a good deal of time speaking with people who have in depth knowledge of the issues surrounding the school day and free school meals: headteachers; policy experts and civil servants working within Welsh Government.  Their expertise and insight helped inform the policy document we produced.

We arrived at the 80p figure after looking at the price of breakfast items on school menus across Wales.  Currently about 30,000 secondary age children in Wales are eligible for free school meals.  With free school meal take up standing at just under 70%, the approximate cost would be just over £3,000,000 per school year.  School canteens won’t need additional infrastructure for this.  Many already open before school starts, and all have a mid-morning break; the breakfast element could be time limited to the end of that break.

There’s a new curriculum in development for Wales and it aims to nurture ‘healthy, confident individuals’.  Introducing a breakfast element on top of the free school meals allowance would make achieving the vision of the new curriculum a possibility for the poorest pupils in Wales.   

I urge readers to visit the Stop School Hunger Campaign online, to sign the petition, and to share your story.


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