Poverty hitting pupils' learning, survey suggests

Child playing football (generic) More than 80% of teachers who responded to the survey said poverty was affecting attainment

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Many pupils living in poverty come to school hungry, tired and in worn-out clothes, a survey by the ATL teachers' union has suggested.

More than three-quarters of 627 primary, secondary and college teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who responded to the survey believed they taught pupils living in poverty.

And about 40% said the problem had increased since the recession.

The government said it was targeting investment at the poorest families.

More than 85% of the teachers who responded to the survey said they believed that poverty had a negative impact on the well-being of pupils they taught.

'Not eaten for three days'

Of those, 80% said students came to school tired, 73% said they arrived hungry and 67% said they wore worn-out clothes or lacked the proper uniform.

Child poverty in England

Map of poverty

Also, 71% said pupils living in poverty lacked confidence, and 65% said they missed out on activities outside school such as music, sports or going to the cinema.

It total, 80% of teachers surveyed said they believed poverty had a negative impact on pupils' attainment - with problems including under-achievement, not having a quiet place to study at home, inability to concentrate and lack of access to computers and the internet.

"Every day I become aware of a child suffering due to poverty. Today I have had to contact parents because a child has infected toes due to feet squashed into shoes way too small," a teaching assistant in a West Midlands secondary school told researchers.

A Nottingham sixth form teacher said one pupil "had not eaten for three days as their mother had no money at all until pay day", while another teacher said a boy had come to school with no underpants and been laughed at by peers while changing for PE.

Anne Pegum, a further education teacher in Hertfordshire, said: "We have students who miss out on meals because they do not have money to pay for them and in some cases then feel unwell and have to be helped by our first aiders."

And secondary school teacher Craig Macartney, from Suffolk, said he had noted that increasing numbers of children from middle to lower income households were missing school trips as families struggled to meet the basic cost of living.

'Investment for the poorest'

ATL's general secretary, Mary Bousted, said: "It is appalling that in 2011 so many children in the UK are severely disadvantaged by their circumstances and fail to achieve their potential."

"What message does this government think it is sending young people when it is cutting funding for Sure Start centres, cutting the EMA [Education Maintenance Allowance grant for low-income students], raising tuition fees and making it harder for local authorities to provide health and social services?", she asked.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the government was "overhauling the welfare and schools systems precisely to tackle entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, low educational achievement and financial insecurity".

"We're targeting investment directly at the poorest families. The most disadvantaged two year olds will get 15 hours free child care. We're focusing Sure Start at the poorest families, with 4,200 extra health visitors.

"We're opening academies in areas failed educationally for generations and bringing in the pupil premium to target an extra £2.5bn a year directly at students that need the most support," the spokesman said.

Poverty strategy

Earlier this month, the government said changes to the benefits system would lift 350,000 children out of poverty, as it published its child poverty strategy.

The shift to the universal credit system would enable people to work themselves and their families out of poverty, ministers said.

But the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted in December that the welfare shake-up would increase relative child poverty figures by 200,000 in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

And anti-poverty campaigners say the government's approach is wrong, as many families living in poverty have someone working full time on low wages.

They are also concerned that poor families with young children will be adversely affected as councils facing budget cuts reduce Sure Start services.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    No children in the U.K. should go to school hungry, or in rags if this is happening there must be a reason? this was normal in the bad days of welfare boards and means testing ,are they making a come back under the Con/libdems government?

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Child poverty means parent poverty. Parent poverty is down to unwanted or irresponsible pregnancies that the parent or parents can ill afford, and society must pick up the bill. In such circumstances, the human rights of the child must take priority over those of the parent or parents. 'Rights' should be the prerogative only of those who act responsibly. Hard rules, I know but realistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Chid poverty? Wait until Georgie Boy's Cuts start to take effect, then you'll see child poverty!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    children are a huge responsibilty , people who can`t afford children should not be having them, thats the only way to end child poverty, stop irresponsible adults from breeding

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Make more wealth and then distribute it.
    Decedent societies always fail when they place wealth distribution before wealth production.
    Time for a reality check, wealth production is not a bad thing, quite the opposite.
    Only fools oppose it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Don't scapegoat children because their parents are on benefits. Make sure all children whose parents are on benefits or low income support get a free school meal and, if necessary, start breakfast clubs (with food) and homework clubs (with food). Don't leave it to the "Big Society" - it won't get done. Healthy, educated children are productive children who don't later drain resources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I have no idea why posters are blaming the parents. Are they trying to get a rise out of them or something? Surely these are the types of parent who don't use a computer as an educational tool and so won't be on HYS. Anyway, the answer is that the poor have too many kids but no one is prepared to say it cos these voters are far too many in number.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    @Keith 117, if I was a teacher I would expect that the children in my class had had a decent nights sleep and were not too tired to be in school and also that they had been fed before coming to school. This is not about teachers having standards that are too high or about their higher income etc, it's about the children being cared for in the most basic way by being rested and fed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    School Dinners
    EVERY child AT SCHOOL should get lunch provided free by the state.

    This would ensure that they get at least 5 meals a week.

    It goes directly to the child and cannot be squandered on Tabs Beer Drugs or other "essentials" like Fast Cars TV Mobile Phones.

    In a rich country not everyone is actually RICH and even middle incomes can struggle with the cost of living esp when unemployed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Many children arrive at school tired as their parents allow them to watch TV or be on computers or out on the street until very late at night, as previously said bad parenting. Children clothes are very cheap and there are also good clothes in charity shops but parents choose to spend the money on expensive take away food or junk food.Responsibility by the parent not the tax payer is the answer

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Throwing money at these people is not the answer. These people get free NHS/Dental care, rent, heating etc so what are they doing with their child credit? Many already get free school meals in fact expect all these things as a RIGHT. We had only two children as that is how many WE could afford and all the family allowance was spent on them. Less children is one answer as we are overpopulated here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Our children are our seed corn for a better world.They did not asked to be born into a society of greed and curruption.Yes there are bad parents but through our own indulgence and political manipulation.We are reaping what we sow.For all our materialism and so called advancement.Our slavish pursuit of more appears to make us forget what real life is all about.By letting them suffer we fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Many are poor because parents pay high rents to BTL'ers to sit on their backsides.

    Many are poor because bosses drive down daddies wages to increase dividends for investors.

    Many are poor as banks charge high interest rates for loans and give c**p interest rates on mummies savings.

    and high fuel tax = costly food.

    and there are thieving parking charges for nipping out to buy a loaf of bread.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Every polititian should be ahamed that this is happening in GB today.This was a very rich country and still is to a degree.One party after another has wasted billions in the pursuit of political dogma.Not enriching this country and its people.Short of a revolusion we need a complete overall of our antiquated combative style of politics.We have been short changed for long enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Clothes are so cheap there shouldn't be any excuses for a child turning up in worn-out looking clothes...I agree that £1 for own clothes day plus another £1 for another day..it does add up....Children turning tired thats not due to poverty, just bad parenting.. as for hungury children this is down to parents putting beer and cigs before their kids..Poverty runs deeper than a lack of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Stop spending what in the end cost billions on Lybia, and spend it on the children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    It will be interesting to see the impact of the current Government removing the cap on what schools can charge for school meals. Some families already struggle to pay the lower subsidised rate. This policy suggests that the Government doesn't see education in a systemic way. Good healthy meals that families can afford will greatly improve a childs educational ability at school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    there should be no childpoverty in this country, if parents dont work they get good support from the taxpayer, if schools start providing meals for free what are the parents going to spend their income on? maybe the clue is in getting people to understand they are responsible for their own kids, perhaps they could learn how to manage on what they have got, and live accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    It always amuses me that some in society seem to expect that everybody has the same standard of dress, house decoration and lifestyle yet incomes vary wildly. Some parents do not look after their children to the standards that would satisfy teachers but what do you expect when the parents educational achievements and incomes can be so much lower than teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    @Tim 85- that's actually quite a good idea. Sure they'd still need some proper money for things like buses, school books, the odd electrical good(like say an iron. Maybe electrics could be categorised between luxury, phones etc, and basic, house phones etc.) Problems could be that the money required for clothes wouldn''t be consistent, in September school uniforms would be needed for example.


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