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Research highlights schools dipping into their own budgets to stop children going hungry

23rd May 2024 - 07:00
Credit: School Food Matters
Schools across England are regularly paying to feed hungry pupils, according to polling of 10,000 teachers commissioned by the charity School Food Matters. The findings come amid growing calls for the Government to expand access to free school meals.

The polling by Teacher Tapp asked teachers in England about the extent of pupil hunger at their schools and the impact it is having on children and their learning. A quarter said their school has written off school meals debt this year, and 24% said they had opened a food bank to support struggling families.

Research found that almost four in ten (38%) teachers surveyed said pupils in their class were regularly too hungry to learn, with the figure jumping to 63% in the most deprived areas. More than a fifth of teachers (22%) said this issue has got worse since the start of the academic year in September 2023.

To be eligible for free school meals, a child’s family must be in receipt of universal credit and have a total household income of less than £7,400 in a year. There are an estimated one million children (one in three) living in poverty in England missing out on free school meals.

Stephanie Slater, founder and chief executive at School Food Matters, said: “The news that cash-strapped schools across England are dipping into their budgets to feed hungry children is shocking. Schools cannot continue to plug gaps in provision with these drastic measures. The Government must expand free school meals so that every child has the good nutrition they need to thrive.”

The London Mayor’s policy to provide free school meals to all primary school children for the next four years was welcomed by School Food Matters as it is an investment in children’s health and wellbeing, removing stigma and supporting struggling families.

Terri Cheung, headteacher at Phoenix Primary School in Liverpool, added: “Our school is in an area of high deprivation, and we have lots of families who struggle financially. Some children come in hungry every single day. We also have so many families who aren’t eligible for free school meals because they earn a tiny bit over the £7,400 threshold.

“It doesn’t mean our children go hungry. We definitely make sure that they eat, but it’s coming out of the school budget. The way it’s going now, that’s not going to be sustainable. We get less and less money every year and the bills have gone up.”

The teachers in the School Food Matters survey were also asked about what they perceive to be the main benefits of a child having a nutritious meal. A resounding 97% of teachers said they believe nutritious school meals deliver benefits for pupils in the classroom, including improving behaviour, attainment, and attendance.

Written by
Edward Waddell