Child poverty having a 'detrimental effect' on pupils' learning and behaviour

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Teachers are ‘deeply concerned’ by the effects of poverty on children’s learning, with many believing the situation has worsened in the last few years, according to a survey.

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One teacher who took part in the survey said she sees children come to school with holes in their socks

A poll by the National Education Union (NEU) of 8,674 of its UK members reveals teachers are witnessing a ‘significant’ increase in the visibility of child poverty in their school or college.

More than 90 per cent of respondents said the effects of poverty and low-income are having an impact on children’s learning.

Half said they believe things have got worse or ‘significantly’ worse since 2016. Primary school teachers were slightly more likely to say things had deteriorated.

The NEU, which has released the findings ahead of it annual conference in Liverpool this week (15-18 April), says the situation is compounded by the education funding crisis meaning that schools can do less to attempt to ‘counter the impacts of poverty on children’s education.’

When asked to identify the impacts on learning that could be attributed to poverty, over three-quarters of those that took part in the survey said their pupils demonstrated fatigue (78 per cent), poor concentration (76 per cent) or poor behaviour (75 per cent).

One respondent said, ‘Most of my class arrive at school hungry and thirsty.’

Another commented, ‘Their [pupils’] social and emotional needs are not being met and this is having detrimental effects on their learning and behaviour.’

More than half of teachers said their pupils had experienced hunger (57 per cent) or ill health (50 per cent) as a result of poverty , and more than a third (35 per cent) said pupils had been bullied because of it.

The NEU says that a ‘significant’ number of members described a widespread concern about school uniforms.

One said, ‘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.’

Another said, ‘We have bought uniform items and pretend they are from students who have grown out of them.

One member added, ‘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.’

NEU comment

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), 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.’

Government response

Minister for children and families Nadhim Zahawi said, 'Tackling disadvantage will always be a priority for this Government. Employment is at a record high and wages are outstripping inflation, but we know some families need more help.

'While all infant children can benefit from our universal infant free school meals programme, we are making sure that more than a million of the most disadvantaged children are also accessing free school meals throughout their education – saving families around £400 per year. We are also investing £9 million to give more access to holiday clubs where they can benefit from activities and a nutritious meal during the school break.'

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