More children go to school hungry, warn teachers

Recession has caused a worrying rise in malnutrition among pupils, survey reveals
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The Independent Online

The growing problem of child malnutrition was highlighted today following a report showing half the country's teachers have witnessed pupils suffering malnutrition or hunger pangs.

The survey, in which some teachers admitted buying food for pupils, is the latest to highlight the impact increasing poverty is having on today's children. Earlier this month, the charity Kids Company, which looks after 13,000 children in London, warned an increasing number of children were arriving at its drop-in centres not in search of shelter or safety – but just a good square meal.

Further evidence came yesterday from the Trussell Trust, which runs over 200 food banks in the UK. A spokesman said demand had nearly doubled in the past 12 months, with the charity opening two new food banks every week in the last year.

The new figures are revealed in a study of 515 teachers from across England by the Prince's Trust. One in four of those claiming pupils' hunger is a problem, said it was becoming an increasingly common sight as a result of the recession. It also found seven out of 10 secondary school teachers were "increasingly worried" their pupils will end up on benefits after quitting full-time education.

The survey, published in today's Times Educational Supplement, paints a picture of the devastating effect the recession is having on pupils and their teachers. The charity said teachers were also witnessing increasing numbers of pupils coming into school "hungry", "dirty" and "struggling to concentrate" since the recession.

More than one in four teachers said they regularly saw children walking miles to school as they cannot afford transport. A further two-thirds claim they often saw pupils with holes in their shoes. One teacher told how she saw a pupil walking to school in the snow wearing just her socks because her shoes no longer fitted her.

Some said they had seen a "marked" increase in depression and emotional problems as joblessness took its toll on family life. "The recession is already damaging the hopes of more than a million young people who are struggling to find a job," said Ginny Lunn, its director of policy and strategy. "Now young people in schools are next in line.

"We cannot allow them to become the next victims of the recession."

In all, 48 per cent of those in the survey – conducted by YouGov plc – said they regularly witnessed pupils coming into school suffering from malnutrition or showing signs they had not eaten enough. One teacher reported seeing "scavenger pupils finishing off scraps" while another said some came into school "to have food and keep warm".

"On a daily basis, I witness one child who never changes his clothes at all," said one respondent. "All term he has been wearing the same two hoodies and jeans."

According to the research, the most effective method of helping deprived youngsters cope with the impact of poverty is to provide them with mentors. However, two-fifths said they did not have enough support to do this.

The trust's research follows a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last month in which teachers claimed children were going hungry because their free school dinners were too "tiny". Providers, they argued, were reducing the size of dinners to cut costs and keep their contracts as public service cuts began to bite.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company, said: "We are seeing responsible parents who are not managing to have food in the house." The School Food Trust, which advises the Government about children's nutrition, said for "far too many children" a free school meal was their only proper meal of the day.