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The Dubious Case for Free School Breakfasts

  • The Conservative Party’s manifesto for the June 2017 general election included a policy to replace free school lunches with free school breakfasts for all school children. After the election, the policy was abandoned.

  • The Conservative manifesto justified the policy by appealing to research into the educational effects of free school breakfasts conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2016.

  • This research was conducted to a high standard. However, the widespread interpretation of the findings was incorrect. The research does not show that school breakfasts are required as a remedy for children arriving at school hungry. Nor did it show that the improved educational performance of the children involved in the study was the result of eating breakfast.

  • The findings of this research, and previous studies, strongly suggest that it is the social element of these school clubs, not the nutritional element, that explains improved educational performance.

  • Misrepresenting the findings as identifying nutritional rather than social factors in educational performance is likely to misdirect public policy, not only concerning education but concerning children’s health. The main nutritional problem in children from poor British families is not hunger but over-eating and obesity.

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