Breakfast revolution backed by leading academics

“A breakfast revolution,” the headline writers called it when the idea of providing all children with free breakfasts in schools was first launched.

Fast forward seven months and the revolution has been realised; more than 11,000 breakfasts are being served every school day and children are no longer starting lessons on an empty stomach.

It’s a sea change for schools, for teachers, for children and for Blackpool Council and, as a nationwide first, I don’t mind the tag “revolution” at all.

As I’ve said all along though we believe it was a vital thing to do – the overwhelming evidence from teachers told us that.

But don’t just take my word for it.

This week saw the release of a study by Northumbria University, who are internationally renowned for their research into school meals and, in particular, breakfasts.

Their team of respected academics, including developmental psychologists, health psychologists, nutritionists and statisticians, studied a sample of Blackpool schools to analyse the effectiveness of the pilot.

And their findings were overwhelmingly positive, concluding that children were eating more healthy items for breakfast, as well as feeling happier and more alert.

They found the benefits we envisaged for classroom punctuality and performance were becoming a reality.

On top of that, 70 per cent of children are taking part – an uptake level we are satisfied with given the need for parental opt-out choice.

The study also found that making breakfast available to all children – rather than offering them on a means-tested basis – was preventing the stigmatisation that can come with providing a scheme for a limited few.

The researchers, led by Dr Margaret Defreyter, also picked up on a few interesting new points.

They suggested that we look at the start time of breakfast, indicating that starting earlier could help punctuality, while suggesting that it may be better to ensure children eat the breakfast outside classrooms, rather than in as some schools have chosen to do, to prevent disruption.

They suggested healthier alternatives to some of the current products on offer and suggested further training of staff on nutritional knowledge and other aspects.

And they also suggested further engagement with parents, schools and governors is crucial to ensure the scheme is beneficial in the long term.

These are issues staff have been picking up throughout too and which we will be considering ahead of the new school year.

A final point which we have also seized upon is the need for further work to improve children’s health, this time through exercise.

I can announce today that we will also be considering a proposal to introduce online exercise programme “Cyber Coach Smart” into all primary school classrooms.

This programme has been developed specifically for use in primary classes, allowing teachers to stream exercise routines onto whiteboards via the internet, and averting the need for specialist coaching training or hugely expensive sporting facilities.

We hope the programme, coupled with making sure children receive a healthy and nutritious breakfast each day, will give youngsters a much better chance at succeeding in education and in life.

Finally, I thank all parents, pupils and the Blackpool residents who have supported the idea. Long may it continue.

Viva la breakfast revolution!

Helping the hardest hit

A report issued last week by academics from Sheffield Hallam University (here) claimed Blackpool was the area of the country “hardest hit” by the Government’s welfare cuts.

This is no great surprise; in fact, it backs up what we have been saying for months.

While some areas of the south are barely touched by the changes, residents across northern towns and cities like Blackpool are suffering.

We are doing what we can to help our residents through these desperately difficult times though.

We’ve introduced a free breakfasts scheme so that every primary school pupil can start the day with a healthy meal, saving parents money and making a social commitment to driving up standards in the future by giving children the best possible start.

The scheme has now been extended until May, at that point the Cabinet will meet to discuss the research carried out by University of Northumbria and decide the future of the scheme.

We’ve frozen council tax and we’ve implemented a living wage scheme for staff putting extra money in the pockets of our lowest paid workers.

Some people might be surprised to hear that over 200 of our staff were paid less than the living wage prior to April.

You might also be surprised to know that a survey by the National Association of Pension Funds earlier this year found that the average pension of a local government worker is £4,882 per year – not quite the picture that people like to paint about local government workers.

These initiatives can help in a small way but there’s only so much we can do as a council when, year-on-year, the Government makes devastating cuts to our budgets.

One of the biggest ongoing causes for concern is the changes that have been made to housing benefit, in particular the under-occupation of homes.

Blackpool Coastal Housing (BCH) have done an incredible amount of work to try to engage with residents (here) about the changes but, despite their best efforts, some people have, unfortunately, buried their heads and hoped the problem will go away.

It won’t, and now the changes are upon us, those people may be feeling the pinch.

There is a large range of support available, however, and I would urge people to make contact with BCH if they are having trouble on 477942.

Looking to the more positive side of things and speaking of housing, Blackpool Council Executive this week signed off the next steps for two key housing developments. (here)

Both schemes, at Queens Park and Rigby Road, are absolutely vital in providing quality housing for local people for decades to come.

It won’t be a quick and easy process but progress is being made.

And finally, I was keen to highlight some fantastic news that has been coming out from FYCreatives and the council’s business support team.

Latest figures show that an amazing 750 businesses have been helped to get off the ground since 2007 thanks to business loans and support from the council.

This is remarkable feat and really backs up our policy of supporting small and medium size businesses I look forward to hearing more success stories from them.

Finally, as I was preparing this post, I was informed that former Mayor of Blackpool, Alderman Edmund Wynne has passed away.

I was delighted to be able to name one of our new Flexity trams after Edmund a few months ago, and delighted that he was well enough at the time to be able to attend the unveiling with his family, and have his photograph taken with “his” tram.

Edmund always represented the ward in which he lived.

A former Leader of the Liberal Party in Blackpool, he was a man of great intellect, passion and dedication, to both the town and to his family – in whose achievements he took justifiable pride.

Our thoughts are with his son Robert, daughter-in-law Gaynor and his Grandchildren.