80% of school staff say providing universal free school meals to all school children would reduce child poverty in their school, according to a survey carried out by the Education Anti-Poverty Coalition.

Schools are struggling amid a steep rise in child poverty, with a large majority of staff reporting that they and their colleagues are increasingly having to divert from their allocated roles to deal with the impacts of poverty on children.

The survey of 1,000 plus professionals working in every role in schools, carried out by the Education Anti-Poverty Coalition, found that 79% of school staff in England say time must be diverted from allocated roles to combat child poverty, with 68% of school staff saying more pupils don’t have money for enough food at lunchtime.

The survey also found that:

  • 74% of school staff say there’s evidence that children growing up in poverty have fallen further behind their peers in learning
  • 70% of head teachers say more parents are asking for help with essentials like food and clothing
  • Almost all (89%) staff say child poverty in their school has increased in the last two academic years. (97% of head teachers/senior leaders, 95% of governors).
  • 88% of school staff say more families in their school who previously appeared to be managing financially are now struggling to cope
  • School staff in every role across England say they are noticing more families struggling with uniform and P.E. kit requirements (78%)
  • More children coming to school in ill-fitting or worn-out clothes (72%)

Asked which policies would have the biggest effect on reducing child poverty in their school:

  • 80% of school staff said providing universal free school meals to all school children.
  • Nearly two in three (63 per cent) said increasing the amount of financial support low-income and middle-income families with children receive.
  • Sixty-eight per cent said more government help for families with school costs such as uniform and school trips.

Commenting on the survey findings on behalf of the coalition, Head of Education Policy at Child Poverty Action Group Kate Anstey said: “Child poverty is ripping through our schools, warping the way they work and jeopardising children’s learning and life chances. Staff want to focus on children’s development but get sidetracked by dinner money debt.

“They want the Government to act and get more help to families. As urgent first steps, Ministers must widen eligibility for free school meals, boost help with school-related costs and increase child benefit. That’s the minimum needed to give staff their time back and prevent millions of children from falling even further behind.”  

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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