Food banks in schools illustrate the extremity of poverty amongst children

A new report exposed schools are carrying an unequal burden of responding to long-term poverty that risks going unseen in government policy.

Findings from the report, which was produced by IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, has raised concerns that the work schools are doing to try and support their communities is not recognised by inspections or wider policy and is either precariously funded or not funded at and green plastic pack

As a result, this risks exacerbating disparities between schools and that serve disadvantaged versus advantaged communities.

According to a survey, of which results were published at the beginning of this year, one in five UK schools set up food banks since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to support struggling local households. In addition, although the rates of inflation are coming down, they do remain fairly high, which as a result more households could be struggling with the cost of food currently.

The report which was produced by the Institute of Education at the beginning of this week, is informed by the research project ‘Food banks in schools: exploring the impact on children’s learning,’ funded by the British Educational Research Association.

Conducted by Professor Alice Bradbury and Sharon Vince at IOE’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (HHCP), the research explores what motivates schools to provide food banks, and how they operate them, through case studies of six primary schools in England.

The report stated: ‘Children are affected by a complex web of policy (housing, benefits, employment law) and economic decisions, and that school is at the frontline of dealing with the consequences.’

To make teachers more aware of a child’s homelife, the report claimed the daily opportunity to speak to parents when they dropped their children off or picked them up from school helped. Experts found these interactions made teachers ‘keenly aware’ of issues faced by pupils – more than what might occur at secondary school.

‘Children are arriving at school too hungry to learn, whilst financial pressures are causing stress amongst families, impacting upon relationships and learning at home,’ said research assistant, Sharon Vince. ‘Whilst the research originally focused on food, we heard how schools are providing clothing, shoes, and hygiene products. They are supporting children and families to participate in ‘normal’ events, such as wearing a costume for world book day and ensuring that families can celebrate Christmas, for example.’

Sharon added: ‘During the Covid-19 pandemic, considerable attention was paid to this additional work, far beyond their remit of educating children, that schools were engaging in to support families with their wider wellbeing.

‘This research demonstrates that this support is ongoing and, in many cases, expanding due to the cost-of-living crisis. However, the time and resources dedicated to this help is no longer recognised in policy.’

Image: Nico Smit

More on this topic:

Heat or eat: the crisis of pensioner poverty in the UK

51,000 children dragged into poverty since 2015 in the North East, report shows


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