Number of children arriving at school hungry on the rise, teachers warn

Feed the Future: 80 per cent of educators have noted an increase in the number of pupils arriving hungry during the past six months, according to a new survey

David Cohen
Campaigns Editor
Tuesday 18 October 2022 16:45 BST

The number of children arriving at school hungry has risen dramatically in the last six months, according to a new survey of teachers across England.

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More than 80 per cent of teachers report that in their schools, the amount of children entering the school gates hungry has shot up in the last six months – with disastrous consequences. The Survation study on behalf of Chefs in Schools reveals that teachers say that 88 per cent of children who come in hungry show excessive tiredness at school, with 84 per cent easily distracted in class and 74 per cent exhibiting disruptive behaviour.

It also highlights the importance of The Independent’s Feed the Future campaign in partnership with the Food Foundation and a coalition of campaigning organisations calling on the prime minister to extend free school meals to all children in poverty in England. There are 800,000 pupils in England whose parents receive universal credit but miss out on free school meals because the after-tax household earnings (excluding benefits) exceeds the threshold of £7,400 a year.

The survey comes as the Food Foundation report a 50 per cent rise in food insecurity in households with children since April impacting 4 million, and brings into focus the urgent need for these children to receive a school lunch. Around 85 per cent of teachers in the Survation survey say that children ineligible for free school meals would benefit from receiving them.

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Headteachers, teachers and school chefs said the situation facing pupils around the country was “heartbreaking”, with many teachers also recounting incidents of children stealing food “due to hunger and poverty”. Last week, a joint investigation by the Evening Standard and The Independent found that some desperate pupils are stealing food from local supermarkets and the school canteen to stave off hunger.

Lisa Williams, headteacher at Rushey Green Primary School in Lewisham, told The Independent: “I have never known anything like this during my career and it is getting worse. Children are coming to school hungry. They can’t concentrate. With packed lunches, some children have bread with no filling or just a slice of bread. As we get towards the end of the month and the money runs out at home, it often gets worse. It’s heartbreaking.”

Luke Kemsley, head chef at Rushey Green Primary, added: “Some children don’t have enough food in the packed lunch box but they pretend otherwise or they stay away from the dining hall because they’re embarrassed.”

Survey Results

81% of teachers said the number of children who come to school hungry has increased in the last 6 months

88% said those pupils coming in hungry showed excessive tiredness at school

84% said those coming in hungry were easily distracted in class

74% said those coming in hungry showed disruptive behaviour

79% said children who bring packed lunches have insufficient amounts of food

85% said there are children ineligible for free school meals who would benefit from receiving them

Source: August survey of 527 teachers in England by Survation on behalf of Chefs in Schools

One teacher told Survation: “Children are taking food from other children’s lunch boxes.” Another added: “Children are stealing snacks from other children because they’re hungry and it’s not fair that they are then tarnished with being a thief by other children when their basic needs should be met.” A third said: “Children are stealing food from kitchens and fridges in school” and “some children are pinching food from others lunchboxes.”

Teachers who took part in the polling added that “it’s often the children whose parents just miss the cut off for financial help who suffer the most”.

A separate survey also out today, carried out for London Assembly Labour, reveals that 250,000 children in the capital are now living in “low” or “very low” food insecurity, with many in families that are “unable to buy basic necessities”. The report calls on mayor Sadiq Khan to establish a Child Hunger Commission for London and the government to take immediate action to tackle the cost of living crisis by introducing free school meals for all children.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “We’re continuing to call on the government to make this a priority. We want to see the expansion of free school meals to children on universal credit to ensure that every child is guaranteed a healthy, nutritious meal every school day, to take some pressure off families’ budgets.”

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