Scandal of pupils ‘too hungry to learn’

Chris Keates. Picture : Paul Faith/PA Wire
Chris Keates. Picture : Paul Faith/PA Wire
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NEARLY THREE-quarters of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry, according to a survey.

Increasing numbers also arrive anxious and unable to concentrate because of the financial pressures on their families, the survey by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, found.

More than a quarter of teachers reported having to step in and provide food for children and more than half said they had seen their schools do the same.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the survey showed that poverty and homelessness was taking a toll on children.

The survey, carried out annually since 2013, has seen teachers report the problems of the impact of financial hardship increase each year. More than 3,250 teachers responded about their experiences over the last year.

Housing is an increasing issue, with over a third of teachers saying they have seen pupils who have been living in temporary accommodation.

A quarter have seen pupils who have lost their homes and over a third have seen pupils who have had to leave school mid-term because they were forced to leave their homes.

When asked about how financial pressures affect pupils, over half of teachers reported witnessing rising levels of anxiety among pupils. Nearly three quarters report pupils being absent from school and nearly two thirds say pupils have exhibited behaviour problems.

Ms Keates said: “It is clear that teachers and schools are being left to pick up the pieces of callous fiscal and social policies.

“Poverty is not incidental to teachers. It is a key inhibitor to educational progression and schools simply cannot be expected to tackle these issues alone.”

She criticised Chancellor George Osborne for continuing to cut public services and suggested that this spending provided “the only remaining lifeline for many children and families” from deprived backgrounds.

She added: “As the survey shows, poverty and homelessness take an enormous physical and emotional toll on children. They often cannot concentrate when they are in school because they are tired, hungry and anxious.

“Children living in poverty are more likely to suffer from low confidence and behavioural issues.

“Homelessness leads to ill health and absenteeism when the distance and cost of travelling to school from temporary accommodation is prohibitive.

“Teachers and support staff are mending clothes and washing uniforms, providing food and equipment. It is hardly credible that this is happening in one of the world’s largest economies.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “This Government is committed to working to eliminate child poverty and improving life chances for children. Thanks to our reforms, there are more people in work than ever before and the number of children growing up in workless families is at a record low - down by 480,000 since 2010.

“We also want to ensure more children have a nutritious breakfast as a healthy start to their school day, which is why, as part of the Budget, we announced £10m funding a year to expand breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools, starting from September 2017. All infant pupils can also now get free school meals - meaning 1.3 million more children get a nutritious free meal at lunchtime, saving families hundreds of pounds.”