Food, clothes, a mattress and three funerals. What teachers buy for children

In 2014 Gemma Morton, the headteacher of a large secondary school, told Education Guardian her school had helped to pay for the funeral of a student whose family couldn’t afford it, even after they had sold their car. Three years on, she has helped to pay for two more funerals. “When a child dies, nobody’s saved for it,” says Morton. “There is literally nowhere for families to go apart from the people they already know, and most of them are poverty-struck too.” The Guardian reports.

At Gill Williams’s primary school in the north-west of England, local supermarkets deliver bread and fresh vegetables three times a week, which are placed in the playground for parents to help themselves. There is rarely a crumb left.

Williams says it is not so much that poverty is more severe, but that it has spread. “It’s everybody. Your average family is like that now.” The core group of those needing support in her school is three times larger than when she became a head 10 years ago.

Heads in poor catchments notice a difference when they attend meetings at other schools. “If you go and see kids in two different areas, they’ll be noticeably different heights,” says Morton.

Georgia Easton, a secondary teacher, always carries a few pounds in her pocket for children who have “forgotten” their dinner money. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Kids saying ‘I had one slice of toast for tea.’” She estimates she spends about £10 a week of her own money on food and other shopping for needy pupils. That’s £380 per year. Gemma Kay, a food science teacher, spends much the same. “You hear kids talking about how in the holidays their parents are going to the food bank because they relied on free school meals in the week. It’s just very sad,” she says. “With changes to benefits, you’d know parents were on less money.”

Williams asked her leadership team to compile a list of the school’s recent expenditure on personal items for students and their families. It included school shoes, bus passes, uniform when the pupil welfare department said a child didn’t meet their criteria; a pregnancy test for a mother who arrived at school in turmoil; an entire food shop after a home visit when it was apparent there was nothing to eat in the house; a mattress for a child sleeping on a sofa; and a bedroom carpet when social services said bare floorboards were acceptable.

There is no doubt in the minds of those who spoke to Education Guardian that poverty is affecting children’s education. “You will go through so many behaviour barriers before you’ll get to the real truth,” says David Penrose, chief executive of a group of schools in the Midlands. “It’s unbelievably embarrassing for that child.”

Read more teacher experiences Food, clothes, a mattress and three funerals. What teachers buy for children

What have you bought for pupils? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Spending their own money is true charity and to be commended; spending other people’s money (i.e. the school budget, which is taxpayers’ money) is theft.

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