Holiday Hunger and Learning Lost

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shutterstock_219628963 Toned image of a hungry child holding an empty bowl.


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For students on free school meals, what do they eat during the holidays?

The Attainment Gap:

The DfE’s Impact Indicator 8, measures the attainment gap at age 16 between free school meal pupils and the rest. This indicator is a measure of the attainment gap associated with economic disadvantage. Take a look at the attainment gap below for 2012/13 and 2013/14. The figures are startling across England and Wales.

DfE Pupil Premium Impact Indicator

(Source: DfE)

Read these startling facts:

  • Only one in nine children from low-income backgrounds will reach the top 25% of earners as adults. The UK has very low ‘social mobility’ which is sometimes expressed as ‘poor children grow up to be poor adults’.
  • Low income is a strong predictor of low educational performance
  • There are ‘strong associations between poverty and young children’s intellectual and behavioural development’
  • By the age of 3, poor students can lag as much as 9 months behind their better off peers
  • The gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds widens especially quickly during primary school
  • Children who do badly at primary school are less likely to improve at secondary school if they are poor. (Source)

One in Eight Children:

According to The Trussell Trust;

One in eight children don’t get enough to eat during the holidays with many returning to school noticeably thinner, according to teachers. The holidays should be a fun time for families but … 19% of parents are struggling to feed their children three meals a day. (Source)

The school in which I work, 71% of students are pupil premium are deemed – under the current criteria – eligible for free school meals. I am pleased to report that we have no pupil premium attainment gap. The number of students registered as pupil premium, puts our school in the top 80-100 quintile nationally. We have been working with Magic Breakfast, a charity which provides free, nutritious breakfasts to schools where over 35% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. Eating a healthy breakfast helps to improve a child’s concentration, behaviour, attendance, punctuality and educational attainment. But what happens out of school hours?

Imagine this, of the 190 days in school, 170 days are spent ‘at home.’ What do our students eat?

Quintin Kynaston Data Dashboard Ofsted

Quintin Kynaston 2011/13 – Ofsted Dashboard

Holiday Learning Loss:

There is a call for government to commission further research into the impact of holiday learning loss.

In an article published by Schools Week; “Children’s minister Edward Timpson has been criticised for ignoring funding and policy changes needed to stop children going hungry during the school holidays.” Lindsay Graham, a school food and health adviser, said Timpson did everything he could to avoid talking about the issue. Labour MP, @RuthSmeeth who supported this motion in parliament said;

In my short time as a member of parliament I have already heard heartbreaking stories of children fainting on Monday morning because they have not eaten since the Friday before. Others are surviving on little more than a packet of crisps a day. For these children their school meal can often be the only hot meal that they get. (Source)

Ruth Smeeth MP presented in the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 21st October 2015. Only 16 signatures were gathered!

“That this House notes that thousands of children in the UK are suffering from hunger and malnutrition during school holidays; further notes the impact that this has on children’s wellbeing and educational attainment; recognises the need to provide greater support for projects which are working to ensure children are fed during school holidays; urges further action to tackle holiday hunger in the UK; and calls on the Government to meet the Holiday Hunger Task Force as a matter of urgency, to commission further research into the impact of holiday learning loss, and to provide financial support to pilot community projects in the worst affected constituencies to develop a solution for holiday hunger.”

In Lindsay Graham’s report, 170 days: Innovation in Community Projects that address School Holiday Child Hunger, she examines community projects in nine US states. In this 27-page research document it says;

There seems to be no attempt to compile clear evidence to show the depth of the problem of child holiday hunger or how it might link to the use of food banks by families in need. There is also neither an obvious line of responsibility for this issue nor any apparent government willingness to support research or positive action to address growing concerns. Even though formal school education doesn’t happen all year round, the fact is that it’s significantly affected by behaviours, practices and routines that happen outside the school term. There is a concern that holiday hunger could be having a substantial impact on the developmental needs of children and therefore should be addressed.

Give A Child A Breakfast:

Take a look at what Kelloggs are doing; supporting Breakfast Clubs in schools for the last sixteen years and have seen what a difference they can make.


Isn’t it time something should be done here in the UK?

In Graham’s report, there is several recommendations. I have shortlisted what I believe needs to happen;

  • Projects should be set within an evaluation framework which measures both process and impact.
  • Programmes should run in all holiday periods using existing resources and staff.
  • Government should embrace the opportunity to extend statutory education to non-term time and align this with community food provision, learning, sport and enrichment activities to help close the inequality gap experienced particularly by low income and Free School Meals (FSM) pupils.
  • Funding for such programmes should come from a range of government policy areas, Health, Education, Department of Work and Pensions.

You can download Graham’s report here.

As Smeeth MP says, ‘Our country will rise or fall on the backs of the next generation. If we cannot provide for our children now, we will pay for it in the years to come.’

Get involved and tweet you thoughts to #170Days.


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  1. School holidays leave kids hungry for three meals a day – The Trussell Trust
  2. Help give a child a breakfast – Kelloggs
  3. Ministers avoid tackling ‘holiday hunger’ – Schools Week
  4. Holiday hunger – NE Child Poverty
  5. Magic Breakfast – follow @Magic_Breakfast on Twitter
  6. The quiet crisis of holiday hunger – Progress
  7. Impact Indicator 8 – DfE

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