Editorial: Do not let parents off the hook

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The Independent Online

Half of Britain's teachers now see children arrive at school who have not eaten any breakfast. Around a third of primary teachers say they take food into school to give to their pupils, with one in six spending as much as £25 a month to do so.

All the evidence shows that children who arrive at school hungry perform less well than those who have eaten. An empty stomach can have an adverse effect not only on children's behaviour but also on their ability to learn. Those that are hungry may be lethargic; or they may be moody and irritable and find it difficult to concentrate. They are also more likely to succumb to colds and flu. Meanwhile, children whose breakfast consists of junk food may be hyperactive and disruptive.

Blackpool Council is, then, addressing a real problem with a scheme, launched today, to provide its 12,000 primary school children with a free breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, toast, bagels, cereal bars and fruit juice. The scheme does not come cheap. It will cost the council £700,000 for the three-month trial alone, at a time when the authority must cut £13.5m from next year's budget and 300 jobs are under threat. But the issue is considered serious enough to warrant money being "re-prioritised" from other services.

It will be up to local citizens to decide how the scheme – which should significantly improve both behaviour and academic achievement – measures up. Further tweaks, targeting schools in more deprived areas or seeking the support of local supermarkets, for example, might help with the bill. That such a scheme is necessary at all, however, remains a damning indictment of too many British parents.

What breakfastless youngsters really need, after all, is better parenting from better-informed parents. Blackpool Council is to be supported, of course. This is no argument for leaving schoolchildren hungry and distracted. But efforts to educate parents must surely be redoubled.