In Brief

Poorest UK pupils relying on schools for food and clothing

Head teachers’ association boss says politicians need to end their ‘Brexit fixation’ and focus on public services

Britain’s schools have become an “unofficial fourth emergency service” that is forced to supply impoverished pupils with food, clothing and other basic necessities, a new report warns.

A survey of 407 head teachers by the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) found that nine out of ten had needed to provide clothing for pupils, The Guardian reports.

And almost half of their schools “had to buy washing machines because so many parents were sending in their children wearing dirty uniforms”, says the Daily Mail.

This informal front-line care also extends to providing meals and personal hygiene supplies. Three-quarters of those quizzed  said they were dishing out free breakfasts to pupils who turn up hungry each morning, and 71% had to provide sanitary products.

One head teacher told the researchers: “In 24 years of education I have not seen the extent of poverty like this, children are coming to school hungry, dirty and without the basics to set them up for life. The gap between those that have and those that do not is rising and is stark.”

The ASCL says the “rising tide” of poverty is a result of a decade of austerity imposed by the Conservative government. 

A trend of “chaotic home lives” is growing as families struggle to make ends meet on Universal Credit and the Government’s controversial social welfare scheme, while cuts to social care and local authority budgets are also taking their toll, the assocation claims.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton is urging politicians to overcome their “Brexit fixation” and provide more education funding.

“[Schools] 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,” he said. “We simply must do better for struggling families and invest properly in our schools, colleges and other vital public services.”

Speaking today at the ASCL’s annual conference in Birmingham, Education Secretary Damian Hinds acknowledged the financial pressures being placed on overstretched schools.

“I understand that there are real concerns on funding, that finances are challenging for schools and that many of you have had to make, and are having to make very hard choices,” he said.

Hinds vowed to make the “strongest possible case for education” to Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has committed to a spending review before the summer recess.

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