More than half of cash-strapped families are being forced to cut back on food, clothing and heating to pay for school-related items, a major new report reveals.
According to research released today, one in four families have had to borrow money to pay for school equipment as parents shell out around £800 a year per child on school basics such as uniform, school meals, textbooks and field trips.
The figures show that around two-thirds of UK families – the equivalent of more than three million – said they have struggled to meet the costs of school.
The report, compiled by the Children’s Commission on Poverty, warns that some children in poor families are being bullied due to their parents not being able to afford certain items, and adds that many children are unable to make the most of their education.
"We may believe that the UK offers a free education, but what children wear at school, what they eat, whether they can join in with friends, even which classes they choose to attend, are all affected by their ability to afford the costs of school," the report says.
It adds: "Too many children are missing out on the opportunity to make the very most of their education, because they struggle to afford the costs of school life."
The report is based on a major inquiry into the impact of poverty on school life, which included evidence hearings, written submissions, interviews and a survey. Around 52 per cent of parents admitted they had cut back on clothing, food or heating to meet a school-related cost, while 25 per cent said they had borrowed money.
The commission concluded that overall, families are spending about £6.4 billion a year on school costs – £800 for every primary or secondary age child.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "Children are supposed to be benefiting equally from a free education. Yet the reality is that UK families are paying billions of pounds each year towards the cost of school.
"Children are being penalised and denied their right to an equal education simply because their parents cannot afford the basics. This is just not right."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We have supported the work of the commission and we welcome the insight that this report provides into some of the unintended consequences of school policies on the growing number of children living in poverty.
“NAHT provides advice to its members and schools on the DfE rules about the cost of school uniforms and charging for text books and school trips. This should ensure that children are not excluded merely because of living in poverty."
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