Poverty means many pupils come to school hungry

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A new survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has found that many students are living in poverty and come to school hungry, tired and in clothes that need replacing.

According to the survey, nearly 80% of education staff said they have students within their school or college living in poverty.

Four in ten said they think poverty has increased amongst pupils since the recession began three years ago.

The survey also revealed that 86% of education staff believe that poverty is having a negative impact on the general well-being of their students, with 80% saying that students living in poverty come to school tired, 73% said they arrive hungry and 71% said they lack in confidence.

Among sixth form and further education students, a lack of confidence was cited as the most significant impact of poverty, by 77% of staff in further education (FE) and 70% of staff in sixth forms.

Staff felt overwhelmingly that one-to-one support was important to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to stay and succeed in education (64%), followed closely by better pupil to staff ratios in schools and colleges (51%), and extending eligibility to claim free school meals (51%). 

Of those teaching sixth form and FE students, the two most important measures identified by staff for helping disadvantaged students were improved, low-cost transport to and from school or college (723% of staff working in FE and 62% staff working in sixth form) and re-establishing the Education Maintenance Allowance (58% of staff working in FE and 58% of staff working in sixth form).

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: "It is appalling that in 2011 so many children in the UK are severely disadvantaged by their circumstances and fail to achieve their potential.

"What message does this government think it is sending young people when it is cutting funding for Sure Start centres, cutting the EMA, raising tuition fees and making it harder for local authorities to provide health and social services.

"The government should forget empty rhetoric about social mobility and concentrate on tackling the causes of deprivation and barriers to attainment that lock so many young people into a cycle of poverty."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the government was overhauling the welfare and schools systems precisely to tackle entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, low educational achievement and financial insecurity.

"We're targeting investment directly at the poorest families. The most disadvantaged two year olds will get 15 hours free child care. We're focusing Sure Start at the poorest families, with 4,200 extra health visitors.

"We're opening academies in areas failed educationally for generations and bringing in the pupil premium to target an extra £2.5bn a year directly at students that need the most support," the spokesman said.

ATL surveyed 627 primary, secondary, sixth form and further education staff working in state and independent schools and colleges in England, Northern Ireland and Wales during March 2011.

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