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Educational Disadvantage Centre

National Strategy Group for Hunger Prevention in Schools


The National Strategy Group for Hunger Prevention in Schools, established by the Educational Disadvantage Centre in 2013-2014, is composed of the following organisations:

Barnardos; Children's Rights Alliance; Focus Ireland; FORSA; INTO; Irish Primary Principals Network; National Parents Council Primary, as well as DCU's Educational Disadvantage Centre

Children going hungry in Irish schools impacts upon their well-being, concentration and attention levels, learning and motivation, as well as heightening risk of aggressive behaviour in class and with peers*. A systematic national strategy to prevent hunger in school is not currently in place. Current initiatives include the School Meals Programme funded by the Department of Social Protection and Breakfast Clubs facilitated by School Completion Programme through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Yet these are not systematically available for all children in need. Not every School Completion Programme includes breakfast clubs and school participation in the School Meals Programme is varied and requires a school principal to apply to be part of it. Unlike countries such as Britain, France and Poland, Irish schools have poor infrastructure for meals in schools, with little investment historically in kitchen facilities in schools.

To overcome the fragmentation of strategy and policy in this area to date in Ireland, there is a real need for one State body to be responsible for developing the strategy, implementation and monitoring of this hunger prevention/healthy eating in schools/school kitchens strategy. While more than one kind of local agency may have the named, specific responsibility for delivering high quality food and cooking activities onsite in school, any such local agency must be firmly rooted in a national strategic response reporting to the one State body with overall responsibility for this area.

It needs to be recognised that two distinct spaces are needed in schools, one for cooking and one as a space for eating, both of which meet required hygiene standards. A dual system may need to be put in place at least initially, where some schools with kitchens would have the food cooked and prepared on the school premises, whereas other schools would receive food externally cooked and transported to the schools.

State commitment to an infrastructure dimension to this strategy, to build kitchens in schools and provide adequate staffing levels, would clearly be required. This would involve a phased roll-out of kitchens in schools, starting with priority of need but ultimately envisaged as a universal programme so that kitchens in schools would be as natural a part of the school building as a PE hall, parents room or computer room.

The issue of adequate time in the school day for eating such hot lunches needs to be addressed. While this may be tailored to individual needs of schools, administratively the easiest time for such hot food may be immediately after the school day, as an afterschool dimension.

A curricular dimension to avail of kitchens in schools is another important aspect of such a strategy. Food can be a resource integrated across areas such as maths, science and sphe. Moreover, it can offer a vital bridge to cultural expression of ethnic minorities, to involve such parents further in the school.

*Background data

Based on data collected in 2010 from 12,661 10-17 year olds in Ireland from randomly selected schools throughout the country (Callaghan et al. 2010), 20.9% of schoolchildren in Ireland  report going to school or bed hungry because there is not enough food at home. This figure represents a slight increase from 16.6% in 2006. More boys (22.4%) report that they go to school or bed hungry than girls (19.3%). More children in the 10-11 year old age group report going to school or bed hungry at 26.8%, which is an increase from 18.3% in 2006. Children who report going to school or bed hungry are more likely to report having bullied others. These figures are of serious concern. However, they are likely to be an underestimate of the current situation as the effects of austerity budgets have come into force. A 2013 IPPN survey of over 600 primary school principals found that over 20% of primary principals observed an increase in children coming to school hungry.