ESRC-funded research on nutrition and school performance has contributed to the provision of free breakfasts in schools in West Yorkshire.

Impacts

  • The research increased attendance at the universally free breakfast club at The South Leeds Academy, by raising awareness of the importance of breakfast.
  • Energy drink consumption was reduced amongst pupils after a series of school assemblies on healthy nutrition run by Katie Adolphus. She also worked to develop nutritional knowledge by developing display boards on nutrition, giving talks during food technology lessons and hosting breakfast club taste-testing sessions.
  • She has also been appointed as an honorary panel member of the Kellogg’s Breakfast Club Trust, which has a national impact on breakfast club funding throughout the UK.
  • The number of students applying to and entering higher education from The South Leeds Academy has increased exponentially, following a series of Research Open Days hosted by Katie Adolphus for SPTA pupils. The Open Days helped them to gain an understanding of what studying at university entails, raising aspirations and interest in higher education.

"Katie's work on nutrition has proved to be very insightful and has provided the evidence for the academy in bringing nutrition to children at the start of the day." (Paul Hirst, Director of Strategy, Schools Partnership Trust)

About the research

Factors that impact on adolescents' cognitive performance, school attendance and behaviour can be crucial for outcomes such as school performance. The ESRC-funded PhD student Katie Adolphus examined how breakfast affects reaction times, memory, concentration, attention and performance on Cognitive Ability Tests and formal qualifications (eg GCSEs), supervised by Professor Louise Dye and Dr Clare Lawton from the Human Appetite Research Unit at the University of Leeds.

The results showed that having breakfast was associated with better school performance, improved cognitive function and behaviour at school. The findings have implications for the provision of breakfast as part of the UK free school meal policy.

The current UK free school meals policy focuses on providing children with free school lunches. Breakfast clubs - where they exist - concentrate on providing breakfast to primary school children. The educational charity School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) needed reliable research evidence to inform their policy on whether or not to provide free breakfasts across their entire education provision.

The charity currently supports over 40 academy schools throughout West Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, through school management and academy improvement programmes. Many of the pupils in SPTA schools come from deprived backgrounds, live in challenging environments and have behaviour difficulties.

Working with Linda Richards from SPTA, Katie Adolphus was based at The South Leeds Academy, where 68 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals. Her research provided the robust evidence that SPTA were looking for. She also acted as a valuable role model for pupils, raising educational aspirations and fostering greater interest in higher education.