Teachers are increasingly faced with evidence of poverty and malnourishment among their pupils, a new survey for the Prince's Trust and TES has found.
Nearly half of more than 500 teachers polled by YouGov said that they encounter pupils who are malnourished, or show signs they have not eaten enough, at least once a term.
It also found that classroom staff fear their pupils will leave school only to end up on benefits and that their efforts are wasted as youth unemployment in the UK remains above 1 million.
The survey, which was carried out before the news last month that the UK economy had dipped back into recession, found 70 per cent of teachers are increasingly worried that their pupils will fail to enter work or higher education and will have to claim benefits. More than half said that they always or often feel that they cannot do enough to support disadvantaged young people.
More than a third of teachers said that their efforts seemed to be "in vain", and 45 per cent believed their pupils hold similar views and are losing faith that education can get them a job since the economic downturn.
But the most striking comments were about childhood poverty. "While on lunch duty I often see scavenger pupils finishing off mates' scraps as they haven't eaten enough," one teacher told the researchers. Others said that free school meals were often the only food that some pupils were given to eat - emphasising their importance at a time when the Children's Society has warned that 120,000 families could lose free meals as a result of benefit reforms.
More than one in four teachers said they regularly see children walking miles to school as they cannot afford transport. And more than two-thirds said that they often see pupils with holes in their shoes. One teacher said that he sees a primary school girl walk to school almost every day, a distance of at least four miles. Another told of how a pupil walked to school in the snow wearing just her socks because her shoes no longer fit her.
Several teachers reported buying food or clothing for pupils. While some said they had seen a "marked" increase in depression and emotional problems among pupils as joblessness took its toll on family life, many teachers said they were struggling under the pressure, too: 45 per cent of teachers who spend time working with disadvantaged pupils said they often feel stressed.
Teachers' experiences during the recession have fuelled support for a different approach in schools: more than two-thirds said that education should focus more on making young people employable.
"The recession is already damaging the hopes of more than a million young people who are struggling to find a job. Now young people in schools are next in line. We cannot allow them to become the next victims of this recession," said Ginny Lunn, director of policy and strategy at the Prince's Trust.
70% of teachers are "increasingly worried" that pupils will end up on benefits.
53% "always" or "often" feel they cannot do enough to support disadvantaged pupils.
45% say that pupils are losing faith that education can get them a job.
48% say that they see pupils at least once a term who are malnourished or show signs they have not eaten enough.
69% say that they see pupils at least once a term who come into school with holes in their shoes.
28% say that at least once a term they see pupils walking miles to school because they cannot afford public transport.