Teachers 'buy food for poor pupils'

Children are skipping school dinners because their parents can no longer afford to buy them. Two out of three teachers say they have had to either give their pupils food or buy them a meal to stop them going hungry, according to a survey from the Children's Society.

One in four pupils entitled to free school meals are shunning them because they are too embarrassed to admit to being poor, it found. The survey, conducted in conjunction with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and National Union of Teachers, recommended that all schools should use swipe cards – cashless transactions – to combat stigmatisation. Currently only around half do.

The report's authors want eligibility for free school meals widened, as at present around 700,000 families below the poverty line are exempt. It cited cases where pupils were spotted stealing toast because they were hungry, as well as one case where two girls were found sharing a packed lunch in the school toilets because only one of them had enough money to buy food.

It also pointed to anecdotal evidence that some of the Government's academies and free schools are reducing the quality of school dinners after being exempted from national minimum nutritional standards by Education Secretary Michael Gove. Staff and students in one unnamed school said they had stopped buying dinners because the standard was "awful".