A dark winter ahead as cost of living crisis bites

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

For many families there is simply nothing left for them to cut back on, no savings they can make. Teachers are deeply worried for many of the pupils they teach, says Dr Patrick Roach

A new school year should bring hope and excitement for pupils, their families and teachers. The opportunity for pupils to expand their learning, make new friends, take part in trips, groups and clubs and for parents and teachers to see their children grow and develop academically and socially.

But for many families, teachers and school leaders this academic year and the change of the season it marks is filled instead with anxiety and fear as they increasingly struggle to cope with meeting the rising costs of food, fuel and energy bills as the days get darker and colder.

The scale of the cost of living crisis on pupils and their families has been laid bare in research we have conducted with teachers and school leaders (NASUWT, 2022).

The research

The majority of the more than 6,500 NASUWT members who responded to our survey over the summer reported that they are routinely providing money, food and clothing to help children and families.

The survey also found that many teachers are routinely providing referrals to food banks as families struggle to cope with rising costs.

Indeed, 58% of teachers said they had personally given food or clothing to their pupils in the last academic year and 63% said their school had done so; 15% had lent or given money to pupils, and nearly a quarter said their school had provided money to students.

Six in 10 said they had made referrals to outside agencies, with 35% saying they had helped a pupil’s family get access to a food bank.

While sadly teachers providing help with food and clothing to pupils and their families is not a new phenomenon, our survey indicates the level of need is growing, with six in 10 teachers saying that by the end of last term more of their pupils were coming to school hungry.

Teachers are telling us that this is having a direct impact on the wellbeing and ability of pupils to focus on their learning and make progress, with nearly seven in 10 saying more of their pupils were lacking in energy and concentration.

Three-quarters said they had experienced more pupils with behaviour problems in the last year and nearly two-thirds said more pupils did not have the equipment they needed for their lessons.

And 63% said they had witnessed more pupils wearing dirty or damaged clothes, while 67% said pupils did not have footwear that was appropriate for school.

Negative impact on education

It is self-evident that pupils who are living in households where there is not enough money to provide sufficient and good-quality food, school equipment and uniform are much less likely to be coming to school ready and able to learn.

The financial worry and anxiety that many parents are already experiencing is also being felt by children and is likely to exacerbate the negative impact on their education.

As we head into the colder and darker months the damage being done to children’s education, learning and development threatens to escalate as families’ budgets are squeezed even tighter by the rocketing cost of energy and food.

For many families there is simply nothing left for them to cut back on, no savings they can make. Teachers are deeply worried for many of the pupils they teach.

Respondents to our survey have described buying food for pupils at lunchtimes out of their own pockets just to make sure they have something to eat that day or washing pupils’ uniforms and PE kits at home. They have told us how they have had to counsel distressed parents who have simply run out of money to buy food for their children or who are facing eviction. They have described how staff have pulled together to set up and provide items for food banks in their schools, such is the level of need among parents.

It is outrageous that in the absence of effective support from the government to help families weather the current crisis, it is being left to teachers to step up and provide this type of support to ensure children and their families do not go hungry and are able to keep a roof over their heads.

It must be recognised that many teachers are themselves increasingly struggling financially, and indeed some members who responded to our survey reported going into debt to purchase equipment and items for lessons so that pupils could participate.

We need to see an emergency response from the new prime minister which recognises the depth, breadth and urgency of the financial difficulties that increasing numbers of families are under. It cannot be left to schools and teachers to pick up the pieces of the cost of living crisis or to provide from their own budgets financial help and assistance to families in desperate need.

Without tangible action which addresses the scale of the crisis we are facing, more and more families, including those of the school workforce, will be dragged into dire circumstances.

We need an increase in funding for schools and children’s services, a better deal for teachers on their pay, and support for households and businesses to help them through the difficult months ahead.

The cost of living crisis may have been generated by global forces, but its impact is being felt in every school and every classroom. Without decisive action by the new prime minister the implications of this current crisis for the education, welfare and development of children and young people will be felt for years to come.

  • Dr Patrick Roach is general secretary of the NASUWT.

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