Teaching assistants are using their own money to help families buy school uniforms, lunches and to pay for school trips, research by Unison has found.
The union said its findings also indicated that schools were providing emergency supplies of groceries, with many running food banks for families.
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Its survey of more than 4,500 teaching assistants from primary and secondary schools revealed that low-income families are turning to schools for basic support, with more than half of respondents reporting that pupils were arriving at school hungry more often.
Among the respondents, 20 per cent said they witnessed increasing levels of poverty and the same proportion had helped pupils with lunch money.
Just over 20 per cent had bought pupils’ uniforms or physical education kit, and just under 20 per cent had contributed to school trip costs.
Unison's head of education, Jon Richards, said: “It's shocking that some parents are so desperate they're turning to teaching assistants and schools for help.
"This demonstrates that support workers are not just essential in the classroom. Their role now extends to acting as benefactors, so pupils and their families don't go without, despite many not earning much more than the struggling parents themselves.”
He said teaching assistants daily went above and beyond their job descriptions “yet the government fails to recognise their worth by paying them a decent wage or acknowledging their vital contribution to children's education”.
A government spokesperson said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government. We recognise some families need more support. That is why we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits.
“We are providing free school meals for 1.3 million of the country’s most disadvantaged children and we are investing up to £26 million in a breakfast club programme, to support over 1,700 school.
“We have also provided best practice guidance on school uniform. This is clear that schools should prioritise cost when setting uniform policies and keep compulsory branded items to a minimum.”