Schools Are The ‘Unofficial Emergency Service’ For The Victims Of Britain’s Poverty, Head Teachers Warn

By Ewan Somerville, 18 Mar 2019
Young People

Schools have become an “unofficial fourth emergency service” to address the UK’s child poverty levels but a “fixation with Brexit” among politicians means the issue is going unaddressed, head teachers have warned.

Teachers cannot “pick up the pieces” for families and address child poverty when schools are facing “severe cuts” themselves, heads said at the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) annual conference.

“A decade of austerity has wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the nation and schools have been left to pick up the pieces,” ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton told an audience of teachers.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds told the conference last weekend that he has heard the concerns “loud and clear” and will “make the strongest possible case” for more cash.

He pledged an expert advisory group, working with mental health charity Mind, to help teachers cope with the “pressures of the job”.

No Heating, No Food, No Toilet Rolls

But teachers did not hold back in warning Mr Hinds that the current situation is unsustainable, with pressures of child poverty forcing schools to turn to charities for basic essentials and pupils turning up at the school gates hungry.

“In 24 years of education, I have not seen the extent of poverty like this,” one head said.

“Children are coming to school hungry, dirty and without the basics to set them up for life.

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“The gap between those that have and those that do not is rising and is stark.”

Edward Conway, head of St Michael’s Catholic High School in Watford, added: “Pupil poverty has increased significantly over the past eight years, with us providing food, clothing, equipment and securing funds from charitable organisations to provide essential items such as beds and fridges.”

In 24 years of education, I’ve not seen poverty like this

Sarah Bone, head teacher of Headlands School, in Bridlington, says she sees “too many children with no heating in the home, no food in the cupboards, washing themselves with cold water, walking to school with holes in their shoes and trousers that are ill fitted”.

Poverty At Record Levels… And Rising

In a move that charity Mind has welcomed, Mr Hinds told the conference that the Government “need[s] to prioritise” mental health and wellbeing in schools, and that “teaching comes with its own challenges”.

However is words mark only the latest insight into the education funding crisis, with teachers reporting that parents have been asked to buy loo rolls and pencils for schools, teachers cleaning the toilets and pupils helping teachers hoover the classroom.

Image credit: Pixabay

A damning recent report from the UN found that 14 million people are living in poverty in Britain – a fifth of the population – and cited figures showing an expected 7 per cent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022.

UN inspectors told the UK government it had imposed “great misery” on its citizens through a “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” set of austerity policies.  

‘Funding Is The Priority’

In December the National Education Union found from a survey of 1,026 teachers in England that two-thirds of teachers were seeing more families unable to afford basic winter clothes compared to three years ago. 

Nick Gibb was asked if he was “deluded” in a widely shared BBC Breakfast interview last week, after 7,000 head teachers in England wrote to 3.5 million parents saying they are facing an unmanageable “funding crisis”.

Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that per pupil spending has fallen by 8 per cent in real terms since 2010.

The department for education says an extra £750m has been put into schools and that it was “fundamentally untrue” to claim that funding has not been a priority.

Feature image credit: Pixabay

About The Author

Ewan Somerville

Ewan studies Politics and International Relations at The University of Sheffield.

Ewan studies Politics and International Relations at The University of Sheffield.