Nearly nine in 10 schools in England are providing uniforms and clothing to some pupils as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, a report suggests.
More than two in three (70%) senior leaders in schools have reported offering food to some pupils – through food parcels, food banks, food vouchers and subsidised breakfasts, according to a survey.
The majority of senior leaders are providing subsidies for extra-curricular activities for some pupils (over 90%) and additional support for some children for uniforms and clothing (over 87%), the survey finds.
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report acknowledges that most of the additional support schools are offering is not new, but it suggests schools have expanded the scale and range of support available for pupils over the last year “in response to cost-of-living pressures”.
More than four in five (over 84%) senior leaders reported that cost-of-living pressures have increased both the numbers of pupils requiring additional support and the level of need.
The survey, of 1,354 senior leaders and 1,317 teachers in state mainstream primary and secondary schools in England in April and May, suggests that cost-of-living pressures have exacerbated mental health needs among pupils.
The report – conducted in collaboration with ASK Research and funded by the Nuffield Foundation – also included survey responses from 87 senior leaders and 41 teachers in special schools in England.
The majority of senior leaders (at least 60%) in mainstream schools reported an increase in the amount of time and resources dedicated towards offering different types of support compared with last year.
Warm spaces/banks and facilities for washing clothes are the support services most commonly reported as being newly introduced this academic year.
School leaders also reported that increases in the cost of living have led to an increase in safeguarding concerns, behaviour incidents and absenteeism.
The majority of senior leaders (over 80%) report that increases in the cost of living have increased safeguarding concerns and/or incidents in their school, the survey suggests.
Report co-author Jenna Julius, NFER research director, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is having a profound impact on pupils and families. Schools are providing unprecedented levels of urgent support.
“Pupils whose most basic needs are not being met – whether it is going to school hungry, or being unable to afford uniform or transport costs – are less likely to attend school and successfully engage with learning.
“Without urgent action now there is a risk that the crisis will have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on pupils.”
The NFER report is calling on the Government to extend the current eligibility for free school meals in mainstream schools.
It adds that the Government should provide greater financial support to address pupils’ wellbeing and welfare needs.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said the findings were a “grave cause of concern” and he said teachers “should not be expected to pick up the pieces of Government failure”.
He said: “The cost-of-living crisis is creating widespread suffering, hardship and destitution amongst children and young people. No child should go to school hungry or wear dirty, ill-fitting clothes.
“Despite the pressures on them, teachers and headteachers are providing access to food, basic hygiene products, and clothing in the absence of other support services.
“We need to see a commitment from Government to delivering the educational entitlements of all children and to a Better Deal for all children and young people.”
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The prevalence of poverty and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis have pushed many families into hardship. Schools and their staff are working harder than ever to provide the support they need.
“No family should have to worry about the financial consequences of sending their child to school.”
He added: “The Government needs to urgently act to support those on the lowest incomes to have an equal experience of education, and reduce the burden on schools. Rolling out free school meals to all children, starting with those in primary, would be a great first step.”