Across England and Wales, new research has found, schools are increasingly being relied upon to step in over clean clothes for students, breakfast clubs and food parcels for families.
Amid warnings of children without winter clothes in parts of Yorkshire, surviving on a single meal a day provided by schools, there are calls for urgent action to provide support.
And, as the Education Secretary prepares to speak at one of the industry’s biggest conferences today, there are calls for a new sense of “social mission” for families.
“A decade of austerity has wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the nation and schools have been left to pick up the pieces while coping with real-term funding cuts,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
“They have become an unofficial fourth emergency service for poor and vulnerable children, providing food and clothing and filling in the gaps left by cut backs to local services.”
The ASCL survey was completed by 407 headteachers in England and Wales, representing around 11 per cent of state schools.
Almost all - 96 per cent - said the extent of pupil poverty has increased over the past few years with four in five schools admitting they donated clothes to struggling students.
Sarah Bone, headteacher of Headlands School in Bridlington, said there were parts of the region where genuine deprivation and poverty was of real concern.
“We have far too many children with no heating in the home,” she said. “No food in the cupboards, washing themselves with cold water, walking to school with holes in their shoes and trousers that are ill-fitted and completely worn out, and living on one hot meal a day provided at school.”
Another headteacher said that in 24 years within education, they had not seen poverty like this.
“The gap between those that have and those that do not is rising and is stark,” they warned.
The full findings, painting a bleak picture over deprivation, revealed that three in four schools had set up breakfast clubs.
Almost half were washing clothes for children, with 43 per cent providing food parcels.
Funding cuts to local authority support services were adding to the pressure, the headteachers warned, with almost all struggling to access in-school mental health support.
“Politicians must end their fixation with Brexit and work together to build a new sense of social mission in our country,” said Mr Barton.
“We simply must do better for struggling families and invest properly in our schools, colleges and other vital public services.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Everyone should have the chance to fulfil that spark of potential which exists in all of us and it a fundamental part of the Department for Education’s purpose. We are pleased that the employment rate has never been higher and wages are growing. And we support schools to provide the next generation with a world class education so they can go on to get jobs and thrive, whilst providing for themselves and their families.
“This Government is spending £90bn a year on welfare to support those who need it most, we’ve introduced the National Living Wage and helped workers keep more of the money they earn by cutting taxes for 31m people by an average of £1,000. Teachers shouldn’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted by this survey, and we’re already taking action to make sure that they don’t have to.”