William Eichler 15 March 2019

Poll reveals ‘rising tide’ of pupil poverty

A shocking new survey of headteachers in England and Wales has revealed that schools have become an ‘unofficial fourth emergency service’ for poor and vulnerable children.

The survey, conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), found that 96% of headteachers said the extent of pupil poverty has increased over the past few years.

It also revealed that 92% said there have been cutbacks in local authority support for vulnerable families and young people in their area over the past few years.

The poll, which was completed by 407 headteachers representing 11% of state-funded secondary schools in England and Wales, discovered that 75% of schools put on breakfast clubs and 71% provide pupils with sanitary products.

Around 91% of schools provide items of clothing for pupils suffering from high levels of disadvantage, and nearly half (47%) reported that they wash clothes for pupils.

An estimated 43% provide food banks or food parcels for pupils and families.

‘A decade of austerity has wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the nation and schools have been left to pick up the pieces while coping with real-term funding cuts,’ said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL.

‘They have become an unofficial fourth emergency service for poor and vulnerable children, providing food and clothing and filling in the gaps left by cut backs to local services.’

Nearly all (98%) of the schools that took part in the survey said they had experienced difficulty in accessing local mental health services for pupils who need specialist treatment – with most attributing this difficulty to a combination of service cut backs and increased demand.

All but two of the respondents reported increased demand for in-school mental health support, with commonly cited reasons being the pressures associated with social media, poverty, cuts to local services, and exams.

‘Politicians must end their fixation with Brexit and work together to build a new sense of social mission in our country,’ said Mr Barton.

‘We simply must do better for struggling families and invest properly in our schools, colleges and other vital public services.’

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