Children are going to school hungry, cold and wearing dirty clothes because their parents are struggling for money, a teachers union has warned.
Members of the NASUWT, which represents thousands of teachers across the North-East and North Yorkshire, have reported that some children are turning up for lessons with mouldy food in their lunchboxes and holes in their uniforms.
A survey of almost 4,000 NASUWT members found that many teachers are giving pupils money out of their own pocket, providing food and lending clothes to help them out.
The warnings come days after foodbanks across the region reported a 463 per cent increase in the number of people using the services.
The Trussell Trust reported that 18,592 adults and children in County Durham received three days’ emergency food relief from its foodbanks in 2013-14. In total, 59,000 people accessed foodbank support in the North–East.
The president of the NASUWT, Geoff Branner, said that schools alone cannot solve the problems of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse.
In a speech at NASUWT’s annual conference in Birmingham, Mr Branner said: “Public education is not just about developing an individual’s capacity to earn, it has a moral objective as well – to tackle inequality.
But he added: “Whether education alone can overcome the malign effects of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse in all its forms is questionable.”
The poll of NASUWT teachers revealed stories of pupils hugging radiators to keep warm and getting upset when they lose basic items such as pencils and rubbers because they are fearful of the cost of replacing them.
The union said it had commissioned the survey in response to concerns raised by teachers about the long-term impact of Government economic policies on children and young people.
The findings show that almost three quarters – 74 per cent – of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry, with 80 per cent saying that youngsters had been lacking in energy and concentration because they were eating poorly.
The poll also revealed that 27 per cent of teachers said they had experience of students losing their homes due to financial problems.
One NASUWT member said: “I have never known such abject poverty as my pupils are suffering at the moment.
“Many are affected by the cold – they cannot complete any work at home as a result of lack of heat, warmth, equipment, and we are seeing more pupils being told by their parents to stay behind in school at night in order to make sure they can do their homework with light and warmth.”
Another said they had seen “children practically hugging radiators, children eating at friend’s houses because they don’t have food at home. Mouldy food in packed lunch boxes”.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The lives of children and young people are being degraded by poverty and homelessness.
“Teachers and other public service workers are struggling to pick up the pieces caused by this Coalition’s economic and social policies.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the Government was taking decisive action to help disadvantaged pupils.
She said: “Around 1.3m children currently receive a free, nutritious meal at school. We are extending this to all five to seven-year-olds in state maintained schools from September and allocating more than £1m to help schools establish more breakfast clubs.
“We have invested in the Pupil Premium, raising it from £625m in 2011-12 to £2.5bn in 2014-15.
“This is giving schools the additional resources they need to raise disadvantaged pupils attainment, and give them a better start in life.”
Source – Northern Echo 19 April 2014