Malnourished pupils ‘taking school food home’
Teachers are warning of a child poverty crisis, with an increasing number of pupils coming to school without clean clothes and showing signs of malnourishment.
Presenting the results of a survey of National Education Union (NEU) members, one primary school head from Cumbria described how some of her pupils had grey skin and poor hair and nails, and would even fill their pockets with food from school meals.
"They're not sure if they're going to get another meal that day… In some establishments I would imagine that would be called stealing, but in ours it's called survival," she said.
Of the 900 teachers and education professionals who responded to the survey, carried out in conjunction with the Child Poverty Action Group, 87% believed child poverty was having a significant impact on pupils' learning, with 60% saying the situation has worsened since 2015.
The testimonies of head teachers speaking at the NEU conference in Brighton included descriptions of children wearing uniforms at weekends due to not having alternative clothes, staff having to club together to buy a child a bed, and schools having to provide food banks and washing machines on site.
Howard Payne, from a primary school in Portsmouth, said he had decided to keep his school open during the recent snow period to ensure children did not miss their one hot meal of the day.
Jane Jenkins, from a Cardiff primary school, said ensuring children were fed was now as much of a priority as exam pass rates.
"It is really tough. When people are asking you about standards and 'why is your school not higher in the league tables', often that is very much a secondary consideration for us these days," she said.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: "The level of child poverty teachers and school staff are witnessing on a daily basis is having a dreadful effect on the life chances and education of far too many children and young people.
"Support services for families who are struggling are being vastly reduced or cut to the bone. We can and must do better as a society. Our Government cannot continue to preside over such inequality and misery."
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Teachers see the heartbreaking reality of rising child poverty every day in their classrooms and dinner halls.
"We must listen to what they are telling us. With nine children in every classroom of 30 now falling below the official poverty line, it is time to ensure all families have enough to live on, and to rebuild the safety net for struggling parents. A vital first step is to lift the freeze on children's benefits so that they keep up with the rising cost of living."
Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said it was a "terrible state of affairs".
More from UK
"We have a growing poverty crisis in our schools with destitution amongst so many pupils," she tweeted, adding: "Tories are failing our children, this cannot continue."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We continue to support the country's most disadvantaged children through free school meals, the £2.5bn funding given to schools through the Pupil Premium to support their education and the recently announced £26m investment to kick-start or improve breakfast clubs in at least 1,700 schools."