Children are going to school hungry and not enough is being done about it, according to the vast majority of schoolteachers.
Some 70% of teachers said hunger in the classroom is not being tackled effectively and called for more breakfast clubs to help solve the problem.
Of the 408 teachers surveyed by Behaviour & Attitudes’ online panel Acumen, 41% said the number of children going to school hungry has increased since this time last year.
The problem seems to be more pronounced in schools which receive funding from the Department of Education as part of their policy to address educational disadvantage.
More than half of teachers in these Deis schools have recently seen a rise in the amount of children attending school without having had something to eat.
Currently, there are more than 500 breakfast clubs operating in schools and other community settings, providing breakfast for children before the school day starts.
“We’ve been very supportive of that programme and called for it to be implemented in schools. So now we’d like to see it expand into all disadvantaged schools, so that children are assured of a meal in the mornings and they’re not going to school hungry,” said Peter Mullan from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
“The benefits of this initiative are substantial. Teachers have reported a range of benefits from making sure the kids have eaten before school.
“It has resulted in the children having improved concentration in school and also improves their behaviour and general wellbeing. The knock-on effects are quite long reaching.”
Last year, a report into breakfast clubs revealed children’s attendance, punctuality, energy levels and participation greatly improved with the introduction of the programme.
It also discovered the clubs became important social outlets for participating children — pupils were more likely to discuss personal issues over breakfast than during class, providing an opportunity for teachers to identify those in need of additional support.
Yesterday, Tanáiste Joan Burton launched the Kellogg’s Breakfast Club Awards which gives schools and community groups the chance to win €1,500 for their club.
“If more schools could provide this service it means that children come to the classroom better equipped to succeed,” she said.
“This is something that is a priority for my department. Officials are currently processing applications for this academic year and funding is being prioritised for breakfast clubs.”
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