Teachers are reporting a rise in pupils entering the classroom feeling tired, hungry and dressed in worn-out clothes.A study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found almost eight-in-10 staff had pupils living below the poverty line and a quarter believed numbers had increased since the start of the recession.
One teacher from Nottingham told of a sixth-former who had not eaten for three days as her “mother had no money at all until pay day”.A teaching assistant from a West Midlands comprehensive told researchers that some pupils had “infected toes due to feet squashed into shoes way too small”, while another member from Halifax reported a boy who was ridiculed in the PE changing room because his family could not afford to buy him any underpants.
Some teachers told how pupils were consistently late for lessons as parents could not cover the bus fare to school. Other children from middle to lower income families have been forced to cut out school tips because money is so tight, it was claimed.The disclosure follows the publication of figures showing a rise in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals as families struggle to stay above the breadline in the recession.
Almost 1.2 million five- to 16-year-olds claimed free lunches last year – a rise of more than 83,000 in just 12 months.Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, claimed that problems would escalate further because of Government funding cuts – putting the Coalition’s social mobility drive in jeopardy.“It is appalling that in 2011 so many children in the UK are severely disadvantaged by their circumstances and fail to achieve their potential,” she said.
“What message does this government think it is sending young people when it is cutting funding for Sure Start centres, cutting the Education Maintenance Allowance, raising tuition fees and making it harder for local authorities to provide health and social services.“The Government should forget empty rhetoric about social mobility and concentrate on tackling the causes of deprivation and barriers to attainment that lock so many young people into a cycle of poverty.”
The ATL, which represents 160,000 school staff, surveyed members ahead of its annual conference in Liverpool next week.Some 86 per cent said poverty was having a negative impact on pupils’ ability to learn. Eight-in-10 said pupils from the very poorest families came to school tired, three-quarters claimed they arrived hungry and some 72 per cent suggested they were unable to complete homework.
Four-in-10 said poverty levels had increased over the last three years. The comments follow claims from Lesley Ward, former ATL president, that poverty levels in some parts of Britain now mirror "the times of Dickens".Craig Macartney, a secondary school teacher from Suffolk, said: “More children from middle to lower income families are not going on school trips and these families find it difficult to meet the basic cost of living.
“A family with two or three teenage children who have one earner who loses hours, or their job, will struggle to reach the minimum income to pay for basics.“This will get worse as the impact of the cuts affects families. The number of young people with mental health problems has been on the increase in the last three years.”Anne Pegum, a further education college teacher from Herfordshire said: “We have students who miss classes because they cannot afford the bus fare or cost of other transport to get to college.
“We have students who miss out on meals because they do not have money to pay for them and in some cases then feel unwell and have to be helped by our first-aiders.”A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We’re overhauling the welfare and schools systems precisely to tackle entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, low educational achievement and financial insecurity.“We’re targeting investment directly at the poorest families. The most disadvantaged two year olds will get 15 hours free child care.
“We’re focusing Sure Start at the poorest families, with 4200 extra health visitors. We’re opening academies in areas failed educationally for generations and bringing in the Pupil Premium to target an extra £2.5billion a year directly at students that need the most support”.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor for the Telegraph.