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Children's education blighted by increasing hardship and poverty

Increasing numbers of pupils are coming to school hungry, anxious and unable to concentrate on their learning because of the financial pressures on their families, a survey by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, has found.

The survey has been carried out by the NASUWT for the last three years and each year teachers report the problems of the impact of financial hardship are increasing.

Growing numbers of teachers and schools are having to step in and provide food, equipment and clothing for pupils and to offer financial advice and make referrals to external sources of support for struggling families.

Over 3,250 teachers responded to the survey about their experiences over the last year.

Results included:

  • Almost three quarters of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry;
  • Over half  said they have seen pupils who are unable to afford uniform ;
  • Over a quarter said they have given food to hungry pupils and over half said they had seen their school give food to pupils;
  • Almost two thirds said they had lent or given pupils school equipment and over half said their school had done so; 
  • 15% have given pupils clothing and 59% said their school has done so;
  • 41% of teachers have given advice to families on issues related to financial pressures.

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.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, 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.

“This year’s survey confirms the trend of the previous two years that the position is worsening.

“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.

“Yet despite this evidence of misery the Chancellor continues to cut public services which are the only remaining lifeline for many children and families.”

Primary School Teacher with children