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Teachers’ leaders warn cost-of-living crisis is ‘harming’ education

The cost of living crisis is harming children’s education, the NASUWT warned. (Ian West/PA)
The cost of living crisis is harming children’s education, the NASUWT warned. (Ian West/PA)

The cost-of-living crisis is “harming” children’s education, teachers leaders have claimed, as they said one school had had to resort to buying underwear for a cash-strapped pupil.

The NASUWT union voiced concerns as a survey it carried out of teachers in Scotland revealed almost two-thirds (65%) had seen more pupils coming to school hungry.

Just over two-thirds (67%) said they or a colleague had given students food or clothing, according to the survey of 360 teachers.

One teacher told the union the “school bought underwear for a student” while another reported: “I am always providing stationery, snacks, books, water to my pupils.”

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said it should “not be left to schools and teachers to pick up the pieces of the cost-of-living crisis”.

The union is calling on the Scottish Government to commit to the introduction of free school meals for all pupils.

The NASUWT survey found almost a quarter (23%) of teachers had either lent or given money to pupils, or had seen a fellow teacher do this.

Meanwhile 27% reported having helped a student’s family get assistance from a food bank, or had seen a colleague do this.

Over half (55%) of teachers reported seeing more pupils unable to afford school uniform, while 57% said they saw more youngsters coming to classes in clothes that were unwashed or damaged.

Almost three-fifths (58%) of teachers said they saw more pupils coming to class without the appropriate equipment for lessons, while almost three-quarters (74%) reported that more students were lacking energy or concentration.

Mike Corbett, NASUWT national official for Scotland, said: “There can be little doubt that the cost-of-living crisis is harming pupils’ education, learning and development.

“It is outrageous that we should be seeing more and more families who are struggling or unable to feed, clothe or keep a roof over their children’s heads.

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

Mr Corbett said it was “vital that schools and wider children’s services are funded to provide more by way of support, advice and counselling for children, parents and carers who are struggling”.

He added: “An immediate step forward which would assist struggling families would be for the Scottish Government to commit to the introduction of universal free school meals for all pupils.”

Dr Roach said: “At a time when many teachers are already struggling financially, they are routinely digging deep into their own pockets to provide urgent help to their pupils.

“However, it should not 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.

“The responsibility should rest with ministers, not with schools, to tackle poverty and ensure families are able to send children to school ready and equipped to learn.”

Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra said the “devastating survey” showed “the toll this cost-of-living crisis is having on children and young people across Scotland”.

He said: “It is a national scandal that children are going to school without the food, clothes and materials they need.

“Pupils who have already had their education thrown into chaos during the pandemic are once again being let down.

“We urgently need action from both our governments to tackle this crisis before things get any worse, as well as properly funding our schools and supporting the teachers going above and beyond.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know this is a worrying time. The Scottish Government is doing everything it can to support people facing rising costs, but there is a limit to what we can do within our limited powers and fixed budget, and we have repeatedly called on the UK Government to provide more targeted support for low-income households.

“We have allocated almost £3 billion in this financial year that will contribute towards mitigating the cost-of-living crisis and almost a third of this support is only available in Scotland.

“This includes the Scottish Child Payment, a vital anti-poverty benefit and one of five family benefits we provide to support children which will be increased to £25 per eligible child per week when we extend it to under-16s on 14 November. With its increase to £20 in April, this represents a 150% rise within eight months.

“We provide the most generous universal free school meal provision of any UK nation. All pupils in primary one to five, as well as thousands of other eligible pupils to S6, benefit from universal free school lunches during term time, saving families on average £400 per child per year. We also provide free school meal support over the holidays for eligible families.

“Help is also available through the School Clothing Grant, which we increased last year to £120 per child of primary school age and £150 per child of secondary school age.

“In addition, Scotland has provided free period products in education settings since 2018 and last month became the first country in the world to place in law the right to access free period products for anyone who needs them.”