Sam Grayson was picking up her daughter from school when a teacher stopped her and pushed her into a blanket: “I’m really worried that the kids are home and cold,” she said.
Grayson, a single mother from Middlesbrough, in the North East of England, is one of many parents turning increasingly to schools to provide food and childcare to make ends meet as the cost of living crisis deepens .
Food inflation reached a record high 14.6 percent in September, while economic conditions in the UK deteriorated.
By offering ‘breakfast clubs’ – preschool groups where children are served a nutritious hot meal – discounted school trips and free after-class childcare, Brambles Primary Academy has become a lifeline for the likes of Grayson.
But with budgets already overloaded, teachers warn there is only so much they can do to support students. Analysts, meanwhile, have said the increasing hardships of primary school-age children could affect their lifelong opportunities and hinder the UK’s drive to build a thriving skills-based economy.
According to a recent questionnaire According to the teachers’ union NASUWT, six in ten teachers reported that more children came to school this summer hungry than last year. Three quarters said they had witnessed an increase in the number of children with behavioral problems and 65 percent said a higher number were not properly equipped.
“There is such a great need,” said Darren Higgins, Brambles’ acting headteacher. “Schools are incorporating some of that because it’s best for the kids.”
This need forces some families to make difficult choices. About one in four parents cut food spending last month, according to a survey by polling agency YouGov commissioned by the Food Foundation and National Energy Action charities – one in 10 said they ate cold meals to conserve energy.
Catherine Millar, headmaster in the north of England for Magic Breakfast, a charity that provides breakfast clubs in the UK in partnership with local businesses such as Greggs, said headteachers were “terrified of what winter will bring… and schools are already seeing it.” that children are starving.”
The increasing hardships seen in schools are driving the growing education gap between underprivileged students and their peers, said Janeen Hayat, director of collective action at the charity Fair Education Alliance.
Reading levels dropped from 62 percent to 51 percent among seven-year-old students from disadvantaged backgrounds last school year, compared to 78 percent to 72 percent for more affluent students, according to government data.
Government figures identified underprivileged children as those who received free school meals, a means-tested benefit for families earning less than £7,400 a year after tax.
In the long run, falling behind in elementary school can limit children’s prospects over the course of their lives, economists say. According to a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies think tank, the richest 20 percent of kids are more than twice as likely to graduate from college by age 26, compared to the poorest. Those with degrees earn twice as much as those without GCSEs, the survey found.
The think tank said tackling educational inequality is key to increasing the UK’s productivity and creating the skills-based economy needed to fuel future growth.
The IFS estimates that real spending per student in two years will be 3 percent below 2010 levels, with teachers warning that further budget cuts will negatively impact student well-being. “It’s getting harder and harder to even maintain the status quo,” Hayat said. “We’ve heard from all our members that schools need to scale back or cut back on interventions to address these challenges.”
The government said it had taken action against rising costs by providing more than £37bn in aid to vulnerable households in need, including payments to households in response to the cost of living crisis.
It had also expanded access to free school meals and invested up to £24 million in a national school breakfast programme, which has funded breakfast in more than 2,000 of the most vulnerable schools.
In inner-city London, at King’s Cross Primary Academy, 17 percent of pupils were already receiving free school meals before the coronavirus pandemic hit. That figure has now risen to 41 percent.
“There are a lot of distraught parents out there,” headteacher Emyr Fairburn said. “They have never had to use a food bank. . . Now they’re worried about school uniforms,” he added.
King’s Cross Academy Trust, the school’s sponsoring organization, recently covered the cost of free meals for all primary school students in response to the cost of living crisis.
“Kids pick up on their parents’ stress,” he said. “This will impact learning as much as Covid did. . . It’s not really our job to [provide the extra support] but they are [the children] not make the progress we expect from them.”
But with energy costs still rising, Higgins said the financial sustainability of the school’s current operations is an “unknown.”