Listening to the news over the past few days has given me a despairing feeling that my job is going to get just that little bit harder. No, I’m not whingeing about teachers’ pay. I’m worrying about out-of-school provision, specifically Breakfast Clubs and Teatime Clubs. Cutting back on these “non-essentials” has been raised in the media as a way of saving money.
I taught in the days before these services existed. Every Primary School teacher knows this scenario: 9 a.m. You’ve just done the Register. A little voice says, “Is it dinner time yet?” That’s the child who’s had no breakfast, the one who’s come to school on a freezing morning with nothing in their stomach and who might well have had nothing since their school dinner yesterday. Every school (and every Infant teacher) always had a secret supply of food so we could give them something…anything. It was usually a couple of biscuits and possibly a warm drink. Breakfast Clubs provide cereal, toast, juice. No human being can learn if they’re hungry. No child should have stomach pains because they’re hungry.
I remember watching a 6-year-old at the dinner hatch calculating which of the options would be filling for the longest time, anxiously checking with the Dinner Lady, “I’ll be able to get seconds won’t I?” We looked at each other in despair as she piled his plate higher than anyone else’s. He wasn’t being greedy. Children work out at a very early age that if food isn’t guaranteed and hunger is all too familiar, you fill your boots when it is there. At least at a Teatime Club that boy would’ve been guaranteed something to eat.
These clubs come in for criticism from people who feel that feeding children should be a parental responsibility. Of course it should, but if hunger prevents children from learning then it’s an education issue too. We still see hungry, underfed children but we see fewer of them than we used to. The people making these proposals would do well to remember that a “Big Society” has a responsibility to feed its children.