One in four teachers brought in food for children during the summer term due to welfare concerns, a survey suggests.
Teachers working in the more deprived areas of England were more likely to report handing out food to pupils than their peers in affluent areas – 31% compared with 22% – according to the survey for charity FareShare.
The poll, carried out by Teacher Tapp, suggests that 26% of teachers in England personally provided food to at least one pupil in the summer term because they were worried about their welfare.
The survey, of 9,421 teachers in England on August 1, found that 35% of teachers said they did not personally give food to pupils last term because their school already provides food in this situation.
FareShare, a charity which tackles hunger and food waste, is calling on the Government to act urgently so teachers are “not forced to fill the gap” to help hungry children.
The cost-of-living crisis has forced many schools to move from providing breakfast clubs during term time to passing on food to parents via food banks, pantries and other support services, the charity said.
But FareShare, which provides food to charities and community groups that would otherwise go to waste, cannot meet the demand for its services.
It currently has more than 1,500 charities on its waiting list – 600 of which support school-aged children.
George Wright, chief executive of FareShare, said: “Over the summer, staff and volunteers at FareShare have been working tirelessly to get more edible surplus food out to people who need it, as parents have faced the added burden of childcare costs and soaring food bills while their children are out of school.
“But despite these efforts, we still do not have enough food to meet skyrocketing demand, and teachers across the country feel they have no choice but to step in to help hungry children.
“Our teachers should be teaching, not forced to fill the gap because the Government stands by and allows this to happen all the while food goes to waste on farms, food that could be going to the millions of children and families facing food insecurity.”
The charity is calling on the Government to provide a £25 million grant which would allow it to redistribute an extra 100 million meals to vulnerable families.
Mr Wright added: “A new school term will undoubtedly bring huge demand for our services. We need to see the Government act urgently and show that it takes tackling hunger seriously.”
James Bowen, assistant general secretary for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Our members have reported increasing concerns about rising levels of poverty in their school communities and the impact of hunger on pupils. These findings chime with those concerns.
“Children who arrive at school hungry, cold or tired cannot focus properly on their learning and our members are increasingly having to go above and beyond to help struggling families by providing basic necessities. But this isn’t sustainable, especially as school budgets are also under considerable pressure.
“The government needs to do far more to break down the barriers to children’s learning caused by poverty, which are now affecting many more families due to the cost-of-living crisis.
“Targeted measures like extending free school meals to all pupils in households in receipt of universal credit would make a real difference, but the government also needs to provide more support for families beyond the school gates and address the root causes of shameful levels of child poverty.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said schools are “increasingly going above and beyond” to provide food, clothing and support to families most in need.
He said: “But following a decade of austerity, a pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis that have left a large number of families struggling to cope, schools are fighting an uphill struggle.
“The work that schools are doing, while hugely valuable, is not sustainable in the long term and is merely papering over the cracks of a deeply unequal society that it is incumbent on the government to fix.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with one in six in 2010 and we have extended eligibility several times to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century.
“This includes introducing new eligibility criteria for families receiving Universal Credit, to ensure even more children were eligible for a free school meal.
“We’re providing record financial support worth an average £3,300 per household. We have also raised benefits in line with inflation, increased the National Living Wage and are helping households with food, energy and other essential costs.”