Nearly one in three primary school teachers say more pupils arriving hungry

Nearly one in three primary school teachers say more pupils are showing up to class hungry, a survey suggests.

Around 40% of primary school teachers said the number of pupils coming into school without adequate clothing, such as proper uniform or a winter coat, had increased, according to a National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report.

The report found that 79% of primary school teachers and 62% of secondary school teachers reported spending their own money buying items for their pupils or school.

Nearly one in five (19%) primary school teachers and 17% of secondary school teachers said they were spending their money on meeting pupils’ pastoral needs, such as providing food or clothes.

Around one in four teachers have already spent at least £100 of their own money on their pupils or school this academic year, according to the report.

The online survey, of 884 teachers and 398 senior leaders in mainstream state primary and secondary schools in England in March, suggests 31% of primary school teachers said the proportion of children regularly coming into school hungry has increased this year.

Jude Hillary, the NFER’s co-head of UK policy and practice, said: “This report clearly highlights the high level of need among young people, and the risk of it becoming an entrenched and persistent challenge for pupils, families and staff, particularly in more disadvantaged schools.

“The cost of living is one of a number of significant cost pressures leading to schools having to make incredibly difficult trade-offs in their core provision – including staffing, teaching and learning.

“Teachers are going above and beyond to meet pupils’ pastoral needs using their personal funds.

“This unrecognised, informal support is being offered at a time when teachers individually continue to face their own financial pressures.”

The report also suggests that many primary schools are cutting spending on targeted learning support and resources to plug holes in budgets.

Only around one in 10 senior leaders said they had not made cuts to any areas of provision this year due to cost pressures, the survey found.

Nearly half (46%) of primary school senior leaders and a third of secondary senior leaders reported making cuts to planned spending on building improvements in response to cost pressures.

The latest report draws comparisons with previous research by the NFER on cost-of-living pressures, which surveyed senior leaders and teachers in state schools in England in April and May last year

The NFER is calling for the eligibility criteria for free school meals to be extended to ensure more pupils can benefit, as well as targeted financial support to help schools address pupils’ wellbeing needs.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It’s deeply troubling that significant numbers of young children are arriving at school without the basic necessities anybody would require to be in a fit state to learn.

“The fact that so many teachers are spending their own money on supporting pupils’ pastoral needs is particularly revealing.

“It perfectly encapsulates an education workforce going above and beyond despite the increasing number of societal problems they are being forced to deal with, seemingly on their own.

“Politicians cannot just sit back and rely on the goodwill and finances of teachers and school leaders to stop children from going hungry.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The fact that children are arriving at school hungry, with unsuitable clothes and having to be supported by teachers out of their own pockets, says everything we need to know about the impact that child poverty and the cost-of-living crisis is having on children and young people.

“This daily struggle against hunger and worries about family finances seriously affects children’s ability to concentrate and learn during the school day.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We are determined to give every child, regardless of their background, the very best start in life, which is why we are committed to giving free school meals to those children who need it.

“Under the Conservatives, free school meals have been extended to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century – doubling the number of children receiving free school meals since 2010 from one-sixth to one-third.

“Our plan to set children up for a brighter future is working as we continue to climb up international education rankings and boost school funding to the highest ever level in real terms.”

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “Children can never seize the opportunities our future holds for them if they’re coming to school hungry.

“That’s why tackling child poverty will be at the heart of a Labour government with a new cross-departmental taskforce and we will roll out free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England so that children get the best start to their day and the best start to their lives.”