Call for schools to dish up free breakfast to all pupils

There have been calls for free breakfast for all schoolchildren
There have been calls for free breakfast for all schoolchildren
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A FORMER council leader is calling for a free school breakfast scheme to be rolled out to all primary and secondary pupils.

Opposition councillor Peter Johnston, the former leader of West Lothian Council, believes the move would help families during “tough times”.

There have been calls for free breakfast for all schoolchildren

There have been calls for free breakfast for all schoolchildren

The free breakfast programme was first started in West Lothian schools in 2011 but is currently only available to primary children from low-income families.

Cllr Johnston, pictured below, says a roll-out to all children is “affordable” and is pushing for the council to expand the scheme as part of this year’s budget.

He estimated the move would add £300,000 to the annual cost of the £670,000 scheme.

Cllr Johnston, the SNP’s spokesman for education in West Lothian, said: “Most of the expenditure and the hard work has been done in establishing the clubs.

“The only additional cost to widen it is the food cost. We reckon this is now affordable.

“It’s certainly not an attack on the concept of family breakfasts. We would encourage families to sit around the table together before the children set off to school.

“But this is just recognition that we’re in tough times and there are lots of families who are hard hit and that this is something that a significant number of local children could benefit from.

“It’s about giving children the chance to come in, have a healthy, nutritious breakfast and start school in a fit condition to learn.”

Students from low-income families are provided with a free breakfast each day at all 66 primary schools across the region under the existing scheme.

Breakfast clubs are also running at various primary schools across Edinburgh and neighbouring councils.

Only children who are eligible for free school meals are able to take advantage of the breakfast clubs.

Harrysmuir Primary in Livingston was one of the first to trial the scheme and has labelled the initiative a success.

About 80 of its 408 pupils – roughly 20 per cent – use the breakfast club each day.

Children who are not eligible for free school meals can also purchase one of the breakfasts for 40p in a move started independently by the school.

A study released by the Institute for Social and Economic Research last year found more than a quarter of children entitled to free school meals across Scotland took a packed lunch instead because of the fear of being stigmatised.

Supporters of expanding the breakfast clubs are keen to remove any peer pressure or bullying attached to those using the programme.

Michelle Herron, chairwoman of West Calder High’s parent council, said: “I certainly know from a primary school perspective that it can be very beneficial to have children who come in early, who have some appropriate nutrition, and are engaged and active therefore towards break time and lunch time.

“It makes a difference to their attention and everything associated with that from an educational point of view.”

West Lothian Council said it was looking at ways of further extending the free school breakfast scheme.

A spokeswoman added: “West Lothian Council has also identified 26 primary schools in areas of relative deprivation where all pupils in P1 to P3, regardless of whether they receive a free school meal or not, are given a free breakfast.”