A vivid picture of poverty as witnessed by the nation’s schools has been revealed amid stark warnings that a 21st century education cannot be delivered under “Victorian” conditions.
Children are increasingly turning to schools to deliver basic needs such as food and clothing, headteachers warn, with a steep rise in the number of parents asking settings for financial support.
Calderdale head teacher Judy Shaw, addressed the nation’s school leaders as she became the president of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), and warned the impact of austerity is being seen even in the most affluent of communities.
“Austerity is really hitting our students, and our communities,” she said. “And it’s not always the ones you might expect. Teachers across the country are telling us they are seeing it. In children coming to school hungry, who haven’t got adequate clothing on. We see holes in shoes, and wet socks.
“They can’t concentrate on reading, if their belly is rumbling.
“Look around our towns, there is evidence,” she adds. “There are boarded up shops, there are children, arriving at schools tired and hungry. It’s austerity biting. And these pupils, they know. They are only too aware of their family’s insecurities and finances.”
The call for action from the NAHT is backed by headteachers’ from 24 schools across Yorkshire, warning increasing numbers of children are arriving at school sleep deprived, hungry, and struggling to learn.
“It’s time to look up from Brexit folders and dossiers - and have a good look around at what’s happening,” said Miss Shaw, who will now represent the voice of 30,000 headteachers nationwide. “Schools have become the frontline service for our children.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds took the stage on the opening day of the NAHT’s annual conference yesterday, issuing a call for evidence over funding for special education needs.
Seeking the “best understanding” of how systems are working in school, he said he wants to ensure every pound of public money is spent on building opportunities for young people.
It comes in the wake of warnings from a coalition of Yorkshire’s authorities earlier this year, issuing a call to arms over a bleak picture in the region as High Needs overspends total £123m.
Now Miss Shaw, headteacher at Tuel Lane Infants in Sowerby Bridge, claims the reality in the region’s schools is a struggle over supporting the most vulnerable as headteachers battle funding cuts, crumbling buildings and shortfalls over special needs support.
“We may work in Victorian buildings, but this is not Victorian Britain,” she said. “It’s the 21st century and our children deserve better. Fund our schools.”
A government spokesman said: “Tackling disadvantage will always be a priority for this government, and we’re taking action to make sure teachers don’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted by this survey.
“The best route out of poverty is work, and under this government we have seen record levels of employment. There are now around 3.5 million more people in work compared with 2010 – with over one million fewer workless households – but we recognise that some families need more support.
“That’s why we provide free school meals to more than one million of the country’s most disadvantaged children – and continue to spend over £95bn a year on welfare to ensure every child has the best start in life.”