Researchers surveyed 294 students from schools and colleges in West Yorkshire.
They found that 29 per cent rarely or never ate breakfast on school days, whilst 18 per cent ate breakfast occasionally, and 53 per cent did so frequently.
The study found those who rarely ate breakfast scored around a fifth of a grade less in each exam, compared with those who regularly consumed it.
Overall, academic performance of those skipping breakfast was almost two grades lower, after accounting for factors such as socio-economic status, ethnicity, age, sex and BMI.
Free meals are provided to children in England on a means-tested basis, but there is no equivalent for breakfast.
Charities Magic Breakfast and Family Action deliver a means-tested breakfast programme funded by the Department for Education, which provides free breakfasts for more than 1,800 schools located in the most socio-economically deprived parts of England.
Separately, Magic Breakfast supports breakfast provision in a further 480 UK schools.
The charity is calling for legislation to introduce school breakfasts.
Some schools fund their own breakfast clubs, or have them funded by companies such as Kellogg’s.
Alex Cunningham, chief executive of Magic Breakfast, 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.
“We are grateful to the University of Leeds for highlighting this positive impact and welcome their findings, highlighting once again the importance of our work with schools.”
Nicola Dolton, Programme Manager for the National School Breakfast Programme, from Family Action, said: “The National School Breakfast Programme is delighted to see the publication of this thorough and compelling research, highlighting the impact that breakfast consumption has on a child’s GCSE attainment.
“This report provides impressive evidence that eating a healthy breakfast improves a child’s educational attainment, which supports our own findings of improvements in a child’s concentration in class, readiness to learn, behaviour and punctuality.”
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and The Schools Partnership Trust Academies.