Teachers report significant increase in child poverty

Teachers are reporting a significant increase in the visibility of child poverty in their schools, according to an NEU survey published today.

Released ahead of tomorrow’s annual conference, the report provides many distressing examples from daily life. In-work poverty, housing issues such as high rents, homelessness and insecurity, as well as fears about how matters would deteriorate with Universal Credit, are common factors. The union says they are having a parlous effect on the learning of children living in poverty.

The union also says the situation is compounded by the education funding crisis which means schools and colleges can, reluctantly, do less and less to attempt to counter the impacts of poverty on young people’s education, and that there is a clear link with the austerity agenda of successive Conservative governments.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Government does not want to hear these stories from the frontline of teaching, but they must. It is truly shaming for the UK, one of the richest countries in the world. A decade of austerity has only served to place more children in poverty, while at the same time destroying the support structures for poor families. This was an ideological strategy and the findings of this survey are its effects. Put simply, the government is failing to recognise the human costs of its actions.

“Government must stop blaming schools for the impact of its austerity policies upon the most vulnerable in our society and take action to alleviate the suffering of the increasing numbers who are living in poverty.”

NEU members are deeply concerned by the effects of poverty and low income on the learning of their students, with an overwhelming 91% agreeing it to be a factor. Half the survey respondents feel it is a significant factor.

This is a view consistently held across primary, secondary and college sectors. If independent providers are excluded from aggregate figures, some 97% of respondents in maintained schools, academies, free schools and further education establishments said that poverty affects their students’ learning. And over half (52%) of these respondents said the effect was large.

Since 2016, members have noticed a change in the “presence and effect” of poverty or low income on pupils/students in their workplace. The overall figures are as follows:

  • Half of respondents (50%) believe things have got worse or significantly worse.
  • Less than a third (30%) described the situation as consistent with 2016
  • Just 2% described an improved situation.

This deterioration is slightly more marked in primary schools.

One respondent said: “The poverty gap has clearly got bigger. The number of students displaying difficult behaviours has increased and poverty is most certainly a factor.”

A significant number of members described a widespread concern about school uniforms:

“Several wear clothing that is ill-fitting or not clean. Shoes are often ill-fitting or very worn, coats are often inadequate for weather.”

“We have bought uniform items and pretend they are from students who have grown out of them.”

“Children coming to school with holes in their shoes or cheap shoes which are not weather proof. Children attending school with no coats, no socks and without other essential items of clothing.”

“Dress-up days can be… a very sad day. The rich children show off and those struggling with finances are really noticed by the other children… so they may decide not to attend school on that day.”

“Food banks are an everyday necessity as is the market for either free or second-hand uniform. Parents have no spare money and children are suffering.”

When asked in a multiple-choice question to identify the impacts on learning that could be attributed to poverty, over three-quarters of respondents told us that their students demonstrated fatigue (78%), poor concentration (76%) or poor behaviour (75%). More than half of members said their students had experienced hunger (57%) or ill health (50%) as a result of poverty, and more than a third (35%) said students had been bullied because of it.

“Overcrowding in homes, so children do not have space to do homework.” 

“Far more students are finding it harder to concentrate.”

“Most of my class arrive at school hungry and thirsty.”

“Some students have mentioned that they have not had any food for two days, some come without having breakfast and with no dinner money but are not on free school meals.” 

“Their social and emotional needs are not being met and this is having detrimental effects on their learning and behaviour.”

“Lack of funding in real terms means my school has to stop providing things such as free breakfast.”

 

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