News Children's Food Campaign

Child poverty pushing schools to the brink

A new survey of over 1000 school staff conducted by the Education Anti-Poverty Coalition reveals the daily stark realities for school staff who are increasingly being diverted from core roles to help manage effects of poverty, including lack of adequate food for pupils and their families.

Girl with sandwhich sits alone in school canteen . Credit: LightField Studios | Shutterstock

Girl with sandwhich sits alone in school canteen . Credit: LightField Studios | Shutterstock

In a first of its kind survey of school staff and governors across, 79% of school staff in England report that increasing amounts of time are being diverted from allocated roles for combatting child poverty.

  • 68% school staff say more pupils don’t have money for enough food at lunchtime
  • 74% school staff say there’s evidence that children growing up in poverty have fallen further behind their peers in learning
  • 70% of head teachers say more parents are asking for help with essentials like food and clothing
  • 82% school staff say government should do more for struggling families

The survey was undertaken with more than 1000 school staff including teachers, support staff, administrators, facilities managers, caterers, kitchen staff and governors. More than two thirds of school staff (68%) said that they have pupils who don't have money for enough food at lunchtime. 

The research shows that no part of the school system is untouched by child poverty, with almost all staff  (89%) saying child poverty in their school has increased in the last two academic years, and similar numbers saying families who were coping before are now struggling.. 

Worryingly 79% of staff said that they and their colleagues were having to divert time and attention away from core school activity to deal with poverty mitigation including chasing dinner money debts, sourcing food bank vouchers or hardship grants. 

Asked which policies would have the biggest effect on reducing child poverty in their school:

  • 80% of school staff said providing universal free school meals to all school children.
  • Nearly two in three (63 per cent) said increasing the amount of financial support low-income and middle-income families with children receive.
  • Sixty-eight per cent said more government help for families with school costs such as uniform and school trips.

Sustain's Children's Food Campaign has been calling on people to write to their MP to end the current postcode lottery of school meal entitlement, with expanded provision being rolled out in London, Scotland and Wales for primary pupils, but no additional help elsewhere. 

Email your MP to end the school food postcode lottery


Commenting on the survey findings on behalf of the coalition, Head of Education Policy at Child Poverty Action Group Kate Anstey said:

"Child poverty is ripping through our schools, warping the way they work and jeopardising children’s learning and life chances. Staff want to focus on children’s development but get sidetracked by dinner money debt. They want the Government to act and get more help to families. As urgent first steps, Ministers must widen eligibility for free school meals, boost help with school-related costs and increase child benefit. That’s the minimum needed to give staff their time back and prevent millions of children from falling even further behind."   

The full survey results can be found in the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) briefing here

The Education Anti-Poverty Coalition, convened by Child Poverty Action Group, represents governors, head teachers, teachers, school support staff, PTAs and others working in education across England. All coalition members share a deep concern about the impact child poverty and hardship are having on the children we work with and our school system. We collectively call for action that will reduce child poverty. Signatory members of the Education Anti-Poverty Coalition are: The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), Child Poverty Action Group, Children North East, The Children’s Society, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), National Education Union (NEU), National Literacy Trust, Parentkind, UNISON and Newcastle University institute for Social Science.

Published Tuesday 19 September 2023

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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