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Survey finds poverty hitting pupils' learning

A survey by the ATL (UK) teachers' union has found that many pupils living in poverty come to school hungry, tired and in worn-out clothes.

More than three-quarters of 627 primary, secondary and college teachers in England, Wales and N. Ireland who responded to the survey believed they taught pupils living in poverty. Forty per cent said the problem had increased since the recession.

More than 85 per cent of the teachers who responded to the survey said they believed that poverty had a negative impact on the well-being of pupils they taught.

Of those, 80 per cent said students came to school tired, 73 per cent said they arrived hungry and 67 per cent said they wore worn-out clothes or lacked the proper uniform.

Also, 71 per cent said pupils living in poverty lacked confidence, and 65 per cent said they missed out on activities outside school such as music, sports or going to the cinema.

It total, eighty per cent of teachers surveyed said they believed poverty had a negative impact on pupils' attainment - with problems including under-achievement, not having a quiet place to study at home, inability to concentrate and lack of access to computers and the internet.

“Every day I become aware of a child suffering due to poverty. Today I have had to contact parents because a child has infected toes due to feet squashed into shoes way too small,” a teaching assistant in a West Midlands secondary school told researchers.

A Nottingham sixth form teacher said one pupil “had not eaten for three days as their mother had no money at all until pay day,” while another teacher said a boy had come to school with no underpants and been laughed at by peers while changing for PE.

Anne Pegum, a further education teacher in Hertfordshire, said: “We have students who miss out on meals because they do not have money to pay for them and in some cases then feel unwell and have to be helped by our first aiders.”

Secondary school teacher Craig Macartney, from Suffolk, said he had noted that increasing numbers of children from middle to lower income households were missing school trips as families struggled to meet the basic cost of living.

ATL's general secretary, Mary Bousted, said: “It is appalling that in 2011 so many children in the UK are severely disadvantaged by their circumstances and fail to achieve their potential.”

“What message does this government think it is sending young people when it is cutting funding for Sure Start centres, cutting the Education Maintenance Allowance grant for low-income students, raising tuition fees and making it harder for local authorities to provide health and social services?” she asked.

The UK Department for Education said the government was “overhauling the welfare and schools systems precisely to tackle entrenched unemployment, family breakdown, low educational achievement and financial insecurity.”

Earlier this month, the Conservative coalition government said changes to the benefits system would lift 350,000 children out of poverty, as it published its child poverty strategy. The shift to the universal credit system is supposed to enable people to work themselves and their families out of poverty. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted in December that the welfare shake-up would increase relative child poverty figures by 200,000 in 2012-14, while anti-poverty campaigners say the government's approach is wrong, as many families living in poverty have someone working full time on low wages. They are also concerned that poor families with young children will be adversely affected as councils facing budget cuts reduce Sure Start services.

All of EI’s UK affiliates, including the ATL, NASUWT, NUT and UCU joined a national march against the cuts in public services and education on 26 March.

The ATL's Annual Conference will be held in Liverpool's BT Convention Centre from 18-20 April.

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