Schools

How schools became the frontline against hunger

Surveys show the number of teachers who receive food parcels has also rocketed

Surveys show the number of teachers who receive food parcels has also rocketed

26 May 2023, 5:00

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Investigation

Heads are spending weekends running foodbanks, despite their crippling workloads, as data shows a rise in the number of schools offering the provision since the cost-of-living crisis took hold.

Teacher Tapp surveys show the number of teachers who receive food parcels has also rocketed almost three-fold since the pandemic.

The banks are becoming the new frontline of the cost-of-living crisis as food prices soar, despite a dip in inflation.

Office for National Statistics figures published this week show UK food inflation sat at 19.1 per cent in April, despite overall inflation of 8.7 per cent.

A report by the Resolution Foundation on Friday found food will this summer overtake energy costs as the biggest hit to family finances.

But schools say the quality and quantity of donations they’re able to hand out has fallen, with shelves more likely to contain instant noodles and biscuits than meat, vegetables and grains.

Benefactors, including other staff and parents, are having to tighten their own pursestrings.

“It’s a chicken and egg situation…we’re here to educate but you can’t educate children who are hungry,” said Jane Lunn, pastoral and welfare manager at Bracken Edge Primary School in Leeds.

Teacher Tapp data from 4,823 state school teachers last Thursday shows 21 per cent said their school ran a foodbank.

A smaller poll conducted by YouGov in February 2021 showed 19 per cent of surveyed schools started a foodbank, but this related just to during the pandemic.

The Teacher Tapp findings show 6 per cent of respondents said their provision launched in the “past year or so”.

Primary school reopens food bank

Bracken Edge set up a bank during Covid, but closed it when community donations dropped off.

But it relaunched it six weeks ago, with donations provided by the Leeds City Council-funded charity Give A Gift. It helps about 35 families whose children attend the school.

“We record if children are coming in in dirty uniforms, if they’re asking for breakfast. We pick it up that way,” Lunn said.

“If that basic being fed and feeling cared for is not there, then they’re not going to learn anything.”

Pupils in families who used foodbanks scored almost half a grade lower per GCSE subject, even controlling for prior attainment and other aspects of household finances.

Authors of a COSMO study of 13,000 youngsters in England said its findings raised additional concerns about the long-term impact of the cost-of-living crisis and called for an urgent review of free school meal criteria.

St Andrew’s C of E Primary in Enfield, north London, opened its food pantry in October after staff noticed how often parents were talking about the cost of living.

Other services were available within the borough, but Jude Statham, the school’s head, said parents were “very proud, they want discretion”.

About 12 families, who access the tucked-away pantry during drop off, regularly use the government grant-funded provision.

But it adds extra hours on to Statham’s already “immense” workload. She stocks up on food at the weekend d before filling the shelves on Monday mornings.

One in six leaders say staff use foodbanks

A separate Teacher Tapp survey also shows an increase in staff using the banks.

In December 2019, 6 per cent of headteachers said they were aware of someone in the school who had used a foodbank that term. This rose to 16 per cent last week.

Andrew Carter, head of Sandal Castle VA Community Primary School in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, has run a foodbank from his office for eight years.

He first noticed staff using it during Covid, and now has three support staff users. Two early career teachers sometimes drop in.

Shelves of donations line the walls of Andrew Carter’s office at Sandal Castle VA Community Primary School in Wakefield
Shelves of donations line the walls of Andrew Carters office at Sandal Castle VA Community Primary School in Wakefield

“I suspect there’s more but I don’t keep any records. They come in when I’m out and about in classes.”

Caroline Derbyshire, the chief executive of Saffron Academy Trust, said at least two of the trust’s seven schools had recently set up pantries where staff could donate items for their colleagues – including teachers – to pick up.

“If a society wants to take its own temperature, it’s a fairly poor indication if highly-qualified professions have people in these situations,” she said.

‘We only have instant noodles’

But as demand has grown, donations have dwindled.

Katie Barry, head of St George’s CoE Community Primary in Lincolnshire, has run a foodbank since the pandemic.

“A couple of years ago there was often chicken, there was often mince, you might get rice or pasta and some jars of sauce,” she said.

“Now it’s items like instant noodles, cereals and biscuits.”

Carter – whose foodbank relies almost entirely on staff and parents – said donations had fallen by around a fifth.

“We’re not getting some of the more expensive items – sources of protein like tins of tuna. We’re getting more of the basics like pasta,” he said.

“At the minute we’re just about offering what we need to but we’re going to struggle to sustain it without some more donations coming in.”

He said he could only see “things getting worse. The way food prices are going, and wages not keeping up.

“We’re going to see a lot more families finding themselves in really difficult times.”

The leaders’ union NAHT said members had reported a “significant” increase in the use of foodbanks.

“While schools will always try to do their best for their pupils and families, this really is going way beyond what we should expect of them,” said James Bowen, its assistant general secretary.

“The government must urgently address the root causes of the scandal of rising child poverty, which is harming not only children’s education, but also their life chances.”

The Department for Education was contacted for comment.

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