A Report on Hunger in the Classroom

school food

National Foundation to Early Years Research (NFER) found nearly one-third of primary school teachers report more pupils showing up to class hungry. 

​‘The ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis on schools’ has revealed that many children are coming to school hungry and without adequate clothing, with many teachers spending their own money to support pupils.

The data comes from a survey of teachers and senior leaders across mainstream primary and secondary schools and found that:

  • 31 percent of primary school respondents said more children were showing up to class hungry
  • 40 per cent reporting an increase in pupils arriving without adequate clothing.
  • 79 per cent of primary school teachers (and 62 per cent of secondary school) said they were spending their own money purchasing items for pupils

Reacting to the report, Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Today’s research from NFER is further evidence of how the increasing numbers of children living in poverty is impacting on schools in England. It’s clear that many are having to make stark decisions about how to spend their resources to meet the immediate needs of their pupils, including by cutting spending on targeted learning support and resources.”

“Schools have always gone above and beyond for their pupils, but they cannot do everything. We shouldn’t have to rely on the kindness of individual teachers to plug the gaps for their pupils.”

“There is an entrenched link between family income and education outcomes. Widening wealth inequality will only exacerbate this. Tackling this should be at the top of the education agenda for the new government.”

Teachers are dipping into their own pockets to help a rising number of students who are coming to class cold and hungry.

teachers food

Nearly a third of primary school teachers said more children are showing up hungry, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) charity.

Roughly 40% have seen a rise in the number of students coming to school without appropriate clothing like proper uniforms or a winter coat.

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), which represents teachers, said  ‘yes everything we need to know about the impact that child poverty and the cost-of-living crisis is having on children and young people.’

He added: ‘This daily struggle against hunger and worries about family finances seriously affects children’s ability to concentrate and learn during the school day.’

This has led to nearly one in five primary school teachers spending their own money to buy food and clothes for their students, the report found.

Some 79% of primary school teachers, and 62% of those in secondary schools, spend their own money buying items like stationary for the school and pupils.

The report’s findings reflect widespread cuts to spending on resources and targeted learning support in schools left with gaps in their budgets.

One 10% of senior leaders said that had made no cuts to provision this year due to cost pressures.

The online survey assessed the views of 884 teachers and 398 senior leaders in mainstream state primary and secondary schools in England this March.

Jude Hillary, the NFER’s co-head of UK policy and practice, warned that  ‘high level of need’ could become ‘an entrenched and persistent challenge’.

He said: ‘The cost of living is one of a number of significant cost pressures leading to schools having to make incredibly difficult trade-offs in their core provision – including staffing, teaching and learning.’

Additionally, around one in four teachers have already spent at least £100 of their own money on their pupils or school this academic year, according to the report.

‘Teachers are going above and beyond to meet pupils’ pastoral needs using their personal funds.

‘This unrecognised, informal support is being offered at a time when teachers individually continue to face their own financial pressures.’

To tackle the growing problem of hungry school children, the NFER is calling for an extension of eligibility for free school meals.

Already, the number of children receiving free school meals has doubled to one-third of students since 2010.

The NFER is also calling for targeted funding to help schools improve student wellbeing.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It’s deeply troubling that significant numbers of young children are arriving at school without the basic necessities anybody would require to be in a fit state to learn.

‘The fact that so many teachers are spending their own money on supporting pupils’ pastoral needs is particularly revealing.

‘It perfectly encapsulates an education workforce going above and beyond despite the increasing number of societal problems they are being forced to deal with, seemingly on their own.

‘Politicians cannot just sit back and rely on the goodwill and finances of teachers and school leaders to stop children from going hungry.’

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: ‘We are determined to give every child, regardless of their background, the very best start in life, which is why we are committed to giving free school meals to those children who need it.

‘Under the Conservatives, free school meals have been extended to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century – doubling the number of children receiving free school meals since 2010 from one-sixth to one-third.

‘Our plan to set children up for a brighter future is working as we continue to climb up international education rankings and boost school funding to the highest ever level in real terms.’

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: ‘Children can never seize the opportunities our future holds for them if they’re coming to school hungry.’

‘That’s why tackling child poverty will be at the heart of a Labour government with a new cross-departmental taskforce and we will roll out free breakfast clubs in every primary school in England so that children get the best start to their day and the best start to their lives.’

hot topics