Schools spending £43.5m a year to meet basic needs

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Two in five schools say that they “frequently” have to provide food for pupils who come to class hungry. Schools are also buying items of uniform, other equipment and even basic items of clothing, such as underwear, for disadvantaged pupils

Schools are also buying items of uniform, other equipment and even basic items of clothing, such as underwear, for disadvantaged pupils.

And some are even offering pupils clothes washing and showering facilities and paying for things such as haircuts.

The stark findings come from a survey of more than 2,100 school leaders by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

Overall, 84 per cent said they had provided extra, unfunded support for pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Analysis of the survey results suggests that schools are spending £43.5 million a year to pay for these extra commitments – money that has to be found from within schools’ budgets.

The survey found that 81 per cent were frequently or occasionally providing items of school uniform, while 77 per cent were frequently or occasionally providing equipment, such as school bags or stationery.

Furthermore, 75 per cent said they were frequently or occasionally providing food (other than free school meals) for pupils – with 38 per cent saying this happened “frequently”.

Half of the school leaders also said that they frequently or occasionally provided basic items of clothing, such as underwear, while a quarter said their school provided clothes washing facilities and 15 per cent showering facilities for pupils.

When asked how much they spent a year on this kind of support, the school leaders reported a median of £5,000 – this equates to around £33.5 million in state-funded primary schools in England and £10 million in state-funded secondaries. Other help often given to poor pupils included:

  • Help with transport, such as for after-school clubs.

  • Paying for outings for children or families.

  • Haircuts.

  • ICT usage and printing facilities for the family.

One school said that its staff attend medical, legal or social services meetings to provide support to parents, while others have set up food banks for families who are “frequently going without food”.

In the survey, 84 per cent of the school leaders said they were providing more of this type of support than five years ago, and a similar proportion said that this was down to changes in the financial circumstances of their pupils’ families.

Worryingly, 67 per cent said their schools were funding services that were previously delivered by social care or health services. 

A significant issue for many heads in the survey was mental health support, with 72 per cent saying that their school was now providing their own mental health services in-house. 

Other services being provided included speech and language therapy (64 per cent), school attendance and welfare officers (64 per cent), and coordination of child protection meetings (48 per cent).

Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, said these families have been left “high and dry by cuts to public services”.

He continued: “This is a hidden, national scandal that’s going to hit families very hard, very soon. Schools will do all they can to help and in many cases they’re already providing more support than they can afford. Asking schools to foot the bill for cuts elsewhere, and abandoning the poorest families is the wrong way to go about paying down the deficit.

“We’d like to see government departments working together to give schools the information they need so that low-income families get the support they are entitled to. At the moment the burden of proof falls on the families themselves and children are missing out. This just isn’t right.”


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