In late May, early June Munch and Parents Voice invited people to complete a survey on the provision of food in schools. Ninety six surveys were completed with two thirds of respondents identifying as a ‘parent or caregiver’ of school aged child/ren. (To contribute more ideas to the Parents Voice initiative, check out its facebook page here).
When asked if there was anything that made it hard for their children to have breakfast and take food to school approximately two thirds of the respondents said they had no difficulties. Comments from respondents mainly included: the difficulties in managing to provide food when on a low income, the high cost of healthy food; the need to do without heating and after school activities so food could be provided; and, the lack of money for food close to payday sometimes restricting what children could be given. Other things that made it hard were that some children did not want to eat first thing in the morning, especially if they had to get up early because of parents work commitments. Generally the lack of time, organisation and rush of managing children made it difficult for parents and caregivers to ensure children had an adequate breakfast.
Over seventy five per cent of respondents thought schools should provide breakfasts if children were in need however there were qualifying comments to that level of agreement. The majority commented that children need food to be able to learn and concentrate at school and that they should not have to worry about having enough food with the concept of ‘a good breakfast to start the day’ being strongly supported.
Some respondents considered that only low decile schools or children in need should be provided with breakfast at school. Comments also included that there were hungry children in all schools and that using the decile rating of a school to determine need was not entirely useful. The complexities of schools taking over the responsibility from parents, which most did not agree with, was also covered and the overwhelming reason respondents wanted schools to provide food was because: there were ‘children in need’; ‘no child should go hungry’ and children ‘should not suffer if their parents could not provide for them’. Other comments were made about the need for a living wage so that parents are enabled to responsible for feeding their children or that food vouchers should be provided if needed. As one person stated ‘I would prefer a rise in wages so we can feed them at home’. Twenty five per cent did not think it should be up to schools to provide breakfast for children.
When asked if schools should provide lunches for students 70 % thought they should and similar comments were made about: the need for food to boost concentration and learning; no child being allowed to go hungry; and, that food should be provided if there was a need. The idea of provision of school lunches ‘as is common in some other countries’ this ‘being the opportunity to give healthy nutritious food’ and ‘expose children to a broad range of food’ was mentioned. However the majority considered that it was a parental responsibility to provide lunch for children but if children were in need schools should provide food for them.
When asked the question If a child goes to school with no food who do you think should pay for them to be given something to eat? Multiple options were given and respondents could select more than one. Responses were:
· the government: 76.4%
· parents over: 50.6%,
· charities: 41.6%%
· food companies: 38.2%
· the school: 20.2%
Generally comments were that school funds should be for educational purposes not to feed children and that as a country we should all step in when children are hungry and the community and government should provide support. One respondent considered ‘there is a need to consider long term benefits of good nutrition for kids as this could potentially save the govt. money’. Many comments supported that parents should be responsible but there could be a combination, including food company provision, of solutions if children came to school without enough food.
Almost two thirds answered the question about their experience of school supported food and food provision. Over 60 % said their school had a vegetable/fruit garden, 45.6% said their school taught cooking skills and 14 % shopping skills to students. Almost 30% said their school provided food that parents paid for. Thirty-three per cent provided free food when students needed it and just over 20 % had a breakfast scheme in place. There was praise for the some of the great initiatives in schools but also a number of comments about teachers putting their hands in their pockets to provide food for children at times. The breakfast scheme in one school had been well received by families ‘who have been struggling’ with comment made about how much the children had benefitted from it and the relief it provided to their families. There were also some comments about some schools not having any initiatives that could improve nutrition for students.
The final question asked about the newly released Government breakfast in schools solution to the issue. Responses were comprehensive with the majority stating they thought it was a good start but did not go far enough or address the core issues of poverty and low paid work for some families which would make this issue a continuing problem.
Comments were made about a better approach being curriculum linked and involving schools and communities such as the ‘garden to table’ programme. Many respondents were wary about the political motives behind the initiative with some respondents questioning the wisdom of a public-private partnership and the reliance on large commercial entity involvement.
In conclusion the survey demonstrated a high interest about the need to provide food for some children at school. It was acknowledged that it was the parent’s responsibility to feed children but that in some cases, usually for financial reasons, parents were not always able to ensure their children had breakfast and a school lunch. When this was the case it was considered that responsibility of others to provide food so that children were not hungry and could concentrate and learn.