Children are struggling to learn as result of hunger and parents’ financial issues, headteachers warn

‘I’ve seen a pupil have a mouldy piece of bread as their only lunch,’ says school leader

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Saturday 04 May 2019 01:09
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One headteacher asked: ‘Could you concentrate on learning if your belly was rumbling, you hadn’t had restful sleep and you were cold?’
One headteacher asked: ‘Could you concentrate on learning if your belly was rumbling, you hadn’t had restful sleep and you were cold?’

Young children are struggling to learn and enjoy school as they are burdened with their parents’ financial problems and are arriving hungry with only mouldy bread for lunch, headteachers say.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) says three in four school leaders have seen a rise in the number of parents asking schools for financial support in the last five years.

The survey, of more than 400 school leaders, released ahead of the NAHT’s conference, also reveals that more than four in five have seen a rise in pupils coming to school hungry in the same period.

One headteacher said: “I have observed children emotionally battered and unable to learn, pupils too hungry to think and deprived of sleep due to a lack of heating, bedding and clothing.

“I’ve seen parents weep because they can’t afford uniform or pay the dinner bill.

“I’ve seen a pupil eat a biscuit for breakfast and have a mouldy piece of bread as their only lunch in their box and have had parents break down when confronted as they haven’t eaten all day either.”

“Children are just not ready to learn. They are embarrassed and ashamed,” another school leader in Derbyshire said.

Others mentioned the insecurity of the family income, the threat of eviction, domestic violence and increased food bank use – with most saying these problems are more common now than five years ago.

Judy Shaw, incoming president of the NAHT, will say to school leaders at the conference on Saturday: “Many children are only too aware of their family’s insecurities and finances.

“Could you concentrate on learning if your belly was rumbling, you hadn’t had restful sleep and you were cold? Of course you couldn’t.

“I call upon our government to lift their eyes from their Brexit dossiers, look around them, and offer recognition, understanding, compassion and immediate support.”

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A government spokesperson said: “Tackling disadvantage will always be a priority for this government, and we’re taking action to make sure teachers don’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted.

“The best route out of poverty is work, and under this government we have seen record levels of employment.

“There are now around 3.5 million more people in work compared with 2010 – with over 1 million fewer workless households – but we recognise that some families need more support.”

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