Concern is growing amongst school leaders that the very youngest pupils are so aware of their families’ financial problems that they are struggling to learn and enjoy school.
Comments from more than four hundred school leaders paint a vivid and heart-breaking picture of the impact of austerity on their pupils’ lives. The comments were shared with school leaders’ union NAHT ahead of their annual conference in Telford today (Sat 4 May).
“Children are more aware of their parents’ money and troubles – it worries them,” said one school leader from Sandwell in the West Midlands. “Children are just not ready to learn. They are embarrassed and ashamed,” said another school leader in Derbyshire.
Another Derbyshire 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.”
“Many families work and therefore earn just enough money to disentitle them, and the school to Pupil Premium funding,” said one head teacher in Swindon.
Other comments mentioned the insecurity of the family income, the threat of eviction, domestic violence and increased foodbank use. Overwhelmingly, school leaders report that these problems are more common than five years ago.
Polling conducted alongside the research showed that:
75% of school leaders reported seeing an increase or significant increase in the number of parents coming to school to ask for financial support or support with essentials in the last five years.
81% reported seeing an increase or significant increase in the number of children coming to school hungry in the last five years
86% reported that they provide more or significantly more support than five years ago
85% felt that this level of support was not sustainable for their school to continue with for the next five years
“It is the 21st Century and our children deserve better,” says Judy Shaw, who takes over as NAHT National President on Saturday. In her speech to conference delegates, she will say: “In the wee small hours I worry about our families and the difficult circumstances they face every day. Many children are only too aware of their family’s insecurities and finances. Could you concentrate on learning if you 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. Don’t leave it to schools to pick up the pieces alone.”
Further examples of the ‘austerity stories’ from schools are available on request. NAHT will be including a summary of all of remarks they’ve gathered from school leaders in a letter to all MPs on Tuesday 7th May.
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