Growing numbers of children are coming to school hungry and suffering from poverty-related physical and mental health problems that make it harder to learn, according to alarming new research from Scotland’s biggest teaching union.
The findings, seen by Tes Scotland, also suggest that pupils from poor families can struggle with ICT-based homework, fundraising events and trips – and may even skip school to avoid the shame they feel.
The Face Up to Child Poverty report for 2016-17 from the EIS teaching union is based on a survey of members in which two-thirds of respondents reported seeing an increase in pupils experiencing poverty.
Three-quarters of the teachers surveyed saw increasing signs of poverty-related mental ill health, as well as head lice and skin conditions; they remarked on the number of pupils arriving at school dirty or who had poor teeth or ill-fitting shoes.
Teachers buy pupils socks and underwear
More than half – double the proportion in the previous survey, in 2015 – said that they or colleagues were actively trying to help children at their school living in poverty, for example by buying them socks or underwear, or inventing “competitions” so that pupils could “win” free places on school trips.
Respondents also suggested that poverty was having a damaging impact on the education of the children they taught. For example, the survey revealed concerns about pupils whose health was affected by poor nutrition and who lived in cold, damp conditions, and who confided in teachers that they liked school simply because it was warm.
EIS assistant secretary Andrea Bradley said the findings confirmed that “the grip of poverty continues to tighten on alarmingly high numbers of Scotland’s children” and that it “blights day-to-day educational experiences”.
A Scottish government spokeswoman blamed rising poverty on UK government austerity policies, and said this was being mitigated through measures such as the £750 million pot to tackle the attainment gap.
She added: “What’s more, the Child Poverty Bill will see Scotland become the only part of the UK to propose statutory targets in a bid to reduce the number of children experiencing the damaging effects of poverty by 2030.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 7 July edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.