Baroness Janke: There is clearly a crisis in our schools with children’s education put at risk through poverty and neglect
Urgent Government action is needed so that all children are able to have access to, and benefit from, the education that is their right, says Baroness Janke.
We are used to hearing about the rise in the use of food banks in every part of the country, but now there are reports of the rise in ‘visible child poverty’ from schools and colleges. The Survey of more than 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff across the UK, which was carried out by the National Education Union in April, makes shocking reading.
When asked to identify the impacts on learning that could be attributed to poverty, over three-quarters of respondents said that students demonstrated fatigue, poor concentration, and poor behaviour, with half of respondents adding that students had experienced hunger and ill health.
“Most of my class arrive at school hungry and thirsty.”
More than a third of respondents mentioned a rise in bullying.
“The poverty gap has clearly got bigger. The number of students displaying difficult behaviours has increased and poverty is most certainly a factor.”
Another problem is clothing. “Children coming to school with holes in their shoes or cheap shoes which are not weather proof. Children attending school with no coats, no socks and without other essential items of clothing.”
These findings come at a time when there is already a funding crisis in education meaning that schools and colleges can do less to counter the impact of poverty on their students. In some cases teachers have used their own money to buy food, clothes and toiletries for pupils who arrive ill-equipped and hungry.
What is causing this rise in poverty? The survey cites in-work poverty, high rents, homelessness, insecurity and, in some areas, Universal Credit which does not work well for vulnerable claimants.
As for the Government’s response, this will probably be that employment is at a record high, wages outstrip inflation and fewer people are in absolute poverty.
However, this standard response may change in the light of a new way of measuring poverty set to be adopted by the Government which they announced last week. It could mean a big shift in state support away from pensioners to families with children, which the DWP will consult on. The data would record poverty more broadly including savings and other assets available to individuals and take into account daily living costs. The change was, apparently, driven by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty who expressed shock at the scale of misery he found last year.
Although this is good news, it will be some time before this change in policy is put into effect, and something needs to be done sooner than that.
There is clearly a crisis in our schools with children’s education put at risk through poverty and neglect. Urgent Government action is needed so that all children are able to have access to, and benefit from, the education that is their right.
Baroness Janke is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.