Teachers and other educational professionals across the UK have reported a significant increase in the visibility of child poverty in schools and colleges, with many witnessing distressing examples of child deprivation and hunger.
Teachers have cited examples of in-work poverty, housing issues such as high rents, homelessness and insecurity, and fears among parents about how Universal Credit may affect their ability to feed and clothe their children.
A survey of educational professionals by the National Education Union (NEU), ahead of its annual conference this week, found that 91% believe rising levels of child poverty is having a devastating impact on children’s learning.
The NEU says this situation is exacerbated by the “education funding crisis”, resulting in schools and colleges being unable to counter the impacts of poverty on young people’s education.
97% of those surveyed by the NEU said that the growing prevalence of child poverty is affecting students’ learning. And over half (52%) said the effect was “large”.
Half of respondents (50%) said the situation has become worse or significantly worse since 2016. Just 30% said the situation hasn’t changed, while only 2% said things have improved since 2016.
“The poverty gap has clearly got bigger”, said one respondent.
“The number of students displaying difficult behaviours has increased and poverty is most certainly a factor.”
Another cited examples of children “coming to school with holes in their shoes or cheap shoes which are not weather proof”.
“Children attending school with no coats, no socks and without other essential items of clothing”, they added.
When asked to identify the impacts on learning that could be attributed to poverty, 78% said they had witnessed students suffering from fatigue, poor concentration (76%) or poor behaviour (75%).
57% of respondents said their students had come to school hungry, and 35% said their students had suffered bullying at the hands of other students because of being in poverty.
One respondent said: “Some students have mentioned that they have not had any food for two days, some come without having breakfast and with no dinner money but are not on free school meals.”
Another said: “Lack of funding in real terms means my school has to stop providing things such as free breakfast.”
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: “Government does not want to hear these stories from the frontline of teaching, but they must.
“It is truly shaming for the UK, one of the richest countries in the world. A decade of austerity has only served to place more children in poverty, while at the same time destroying the support structures for poor families.
“This was an ideological strategy and the findings of this survey are its effects. Put simply, the Government is failing to recognise the human costs of its actions.
“Government must stop blaming schools for the impact of its austerity policies upon the most vulnerable in our society and take action to alleviate the suffering of the increasing numbers who are living in poverty.”
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