Teachers are buying students food, school uniforms and period products, new poll reveals

Paying for resources has become ‘part and parcel of the job’ London teacher claims.

arge numbers of teachers are helping poorer pupils pay for school uniforms, food, toiletries and period products, new research has found.

The National Education Union is calling on the government to do more to help disadvantaged families after its survey revealed that a growing proportion of teachers believe poverty is affecting children’s learning.

In a poll of 18,000 teachers who belong to the NEU, almost 80 per cent said they or their school is providing help with uniforms to disadvantaged pupils.

More than half (55 per cent) said they or their school is providing free breakfasts, 58 per cent are providing extra food during the day, 31 per cent are providing toiletries and 68 per cent period products.

One teacher told researchers: “This is the worst I have ever known it in 28 years of teaching.”

Another said: “I stock my school kitchen every week with fruit, cereal, milk, biscuits… the number of children who pop in to see me and then ask for food has grown over the last two years. It is heartbreaking.”

It comes as a London teacher told the Standard it has become normal for teachers to buy resources out of their own pockets.

Jenny Williams, a primary school teacher in Croydon, said buying items such as art supplies, cooking ingredients and books for her class has become “part and parcel of her job.”

Mrs Williams, who works with children with special educational needs, said: “At weekends I am always buying resources for the next week. We buy a lot ourselves. Our school would say ‘please don’t do that’, but the necessity is there. We don’t always have the stuff we need when we need it.”

She added: “It’s part and parcel of your job, it’s not something that teachers complain about.

“Most primary school teachers are used to having some element of that and we try and get reimbursed for it where we can but it often doesn’t work like that.”

The NEU poll, released during the union’s annual conference in Harrogate, found that growing numbers of teachers (61 per cent) said poverty and low income affects children’s learning “to a large extent”. This is an increase from 2021 when 52 per cent of teachers believed it to be the case.

Teachers also said children are showing signs of tiredness and fatigue, and an inability to concentrate or complete homework, due to poverty. A total of 67 per cent of teachers said they see pupils who are frequently ill, compared to 55 per cent last year, which suggests the problem is growing.

In schools with the least deprivation, 54 per cent of teachers reported students coming to school wearing unclean, damaged or ill-fitting clothes and shoes, but in the most disadvantaged schools the figure was 86 per cent.

One teacher said: “I have students who fall asleep in lessons because they haven’t eaten or haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep because of the environment they live in. I have students coming to school in -5 degrees without jumpers or coats. I have students coming to school in pouring rain with holes in their shoes because they can’t afford new ones.”

Another said: “I worry that teachers like myself who often spend out of their own pockets for food and uniform for children who need it, won’t be able to for much longer with the cost-of-living crisis.”

The NEU is calling for the government to provide food vouchers during school holidays, for school uniforms to be made more affordable, and for free school meals for all primary pupils.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Millions of children are going hungry, and their number is growing. It should concentrate minds in Whitehall that this is having such a profound impact on learning. The cost-of-living crisis will only serve to intensify the challenge ahead, and at such a rate that means-testing cannot possibly hope to keep pace.”

He added: “The Government clearly needs to do more and must stop depending on schools and individual staff to keep picking up the pieces. Schools are already working at the limits of what they can afford.”

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