Eating breakfast leads to better GCSE results, researchers find

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Fuelling up: Students from Leeds City Academy enjoying their free breakfast, which is offered to all the academy’s students daily, supported by Magic Breakfast (Image: Ginger Pixie Photography/Magic Breakfast)

Students who rarely eat breakfast on school days score nearly two GCSE grades lower than those who regularly eat their morning meal, researchers have discovered.

It is the first time that a link has been shown eating breakfast and GCSE performance.


The study by academics at the University of Leeds has been published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health and the researchers say that their findings support recent calls for the government to expand the limited free school breakfast programme to include every state school in England.

Currently, there is no national policy of funding school breakfasts for disadvantaged students, such as exists for school lunches under the free school meals programme.

However, the National School Breakfast Programme, which is funded by the Department for Education and run by charities Magic Breakfast and Family Action, reaches 1,800 schools in deprived areas of England and offers all students in those schools access to a free breakfast.

Elsewhere, a number of schools use their Pupil Premium funding to pay for breakfast provision for disadvantaged pupils or work with companies such as Kellogg’s.

The research involved 294 students from schools and colleges in West Yorkshire from 2011 and found that 29 per cent rarely or never ate breakfast on school days, while 18 per cent ate breakfast occasionally, and 53 per cent frequently.

These figures are similar to the latest national data for England in 2019, which found that more than 16 per cent of secondary school children miss breakfast.

Researchers used the DfE’s GCSE grade points system and calculated aggregate scores for the students in the study. They found that those who rarely ate breakfast scored on average 10.25 points lower than those who frequently ate breakfast, a difference of nearly two grades, after accounting for other important factors including socio-economic status, ethnicity, age, sex and BMI.

The National School Breakfast Programme was set up in 2018 with DfE funding of £26 million – money taken from the soft drinks industry levy. As well as the breakfast provision itself, the project sees Magic Breakfast and Family Action working to encourage attendance at the breakfast clubs.

Magic Breakfast, which supports a further 500 or so schools outside of the National School Breakfast Programme, has recently called for the DfE to introduce breakfast legislation covering all schools.

CEO Alex Cunningham said: "This study is a valuable insight, reinforcing the importance of breakfast in boosting pupils' academic attainment and removing barriers to learning. Education is crucial to a child’s future life success and escaping poverty, therefore ensuring every child has access to a healthy start to the day must be a priority.”

Lead researcher, Dr Katie Adolphus from the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds, added: “The UK has a growing problem of food poverty, with an estimated half a million children arriving at school each day too hungry to learn. Previously we have shown that eating breakfast has a positive impact on children’s cognition. This research suggests that poor nutrition is associated with worse results at school.”

  • Associations between habitual school-day breakfast consumption frequency and academic performance in British adolescents, Adolphus, Lawton & Dye, Frontiers in Public Health, November 2019: http://bit.ly/2Dji16q
  • The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and The Schools Partnership Trust Academies.
  • For more details on the DfE’s National School Breakfast Programme, visit http://bit.ly/33kbIdq
  • For information about the work of Family Action and Magic Breakfast, visit www.family-action.org.uk & www.magicbreakfast.com


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