Following my open letter/last blog post last week, I am very pleased to announce our first new policy in response to the problems I outlined.
Subject to approval by the Executive next week, as of January 2013, all children attending Blackpool Primary schools will be offered a free breakfast and free milk at mid-morning break.
This is a bold and ambitious move, but one which is founded entirely in fact, and one which research clearly demonstrates will be of huge benefit to children across the Borough.
At the moment, some schools run breakfast clubs, which are paid for by parents – usually those in work – as a consequence, the uptake is nowhere near as good as we would like. We now plan to make this service universally available, and hope that all schools and the majority of parents will take advantage of it.
Despite our superb schools, excellent teachers and committed support and catering staff, and the best efforts of the majority of parents – Blackpool still has a big problem with attendance, attainment and behaviour in the classroom.
Daily we see and hear of children attending school who quite clearly haven’t had breakfast, and are not therefore able to learn. Under-nourishment is a real problem here in Blackpool, as one would expect in an area beset by high levels of child poverty.
A recent survey of schoolchildren suggests that some of our older pupils are more likely to have used alcohol or tobacco in the last week than they are to have eaten breakfast or had 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.
For years, we have complained about this – but now is the time to actually do something about it.
All of the evidence points towards the provision of school breakfasts improving attendance, attainment and behaviour – in some cases quite dramatically. It will ensure children start the day in the right way, it will encourage them to continue the good habit of eating a balanced breakfast for the rest of their lives, it will provide an extra reason to be at school on time, and in 10 years time, we will see dramatically improved educational outcomes as a consequence.
Those parents in work who are currently struggling to find £10 or £15 a week to pay for Breakfast Clubs, will now be able to spend that money in other ways – further stimulating the local economy. The same goes for those low-paid parents who are currently spending £10 a week on cereals, bread and fruit for breakfast.
Whilst those on benefits usually receive free milk at break times already, I want to see working parents, and people just above the benefit cut-off point, released from the burden of the £10-£15 per term, per child, they are currently charged for milk.
Although the obvious beneficiaries of this scheme are those children whose parents are not currently feeding them properly, it will also create jobs, and pour the money that would otherwise be spent on breakfasts directly into the local economy – this is what fairness is all about – a policy which protects the worst off in society, whilst also putting money back in the pockets of those who work hard and do the right thing.
Although this is a pilot scheme in primary schools only, I hope and believe that it will soon become part of a joined-up strategy on school meals and nutrition, which we have been working on for some time, which will benefit all of the school-children in Blackpool, schools, teachers, parents, and the wider local economy.
By robustly prioritising our budget, and setting out prudent financial plans for the next 3 years, we are able to offer this scheme without placing any additional burden on the Council Tax fund or the Council Tax payer.
In addition to resources already allocated, we shall also be working with potential sponsors to deliver the scheme as efficiently as possible.
Finally, on the subject of my last blog, I will shortly be announcing the appointment of a “Revitalising Blackpool” Task Force of residents, community activists, public, private and third sector representatives, to tackle the issues raised, and the many hundreds of responses received.
Thank you all for your contributions, the vast majority of which were positive and supportive, and will be invaluable in helping us tackle the problems I outlined.