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7 July 2017, 07:26
Teachers are personally providing food and funding school uniforms for children living in poverty, research has revealed.
A survey of Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members found more than half (51%) said they or colleagues had taken steps to help less-affluent pupils while 49% said their school had stepped in.
Responses ranged from providing food for children who are coming to school hungry, personally buying items of clothing to give to those who need them, organising food bank donations and providing pupils with spending money for school trips and fairs.
The measures are against a backdrop of 60% of respondents stating they had seen an increase in the number of children attending their schools who are experiencing poverty.
More than half of the 288 people surveyed (53%) reported a rise in pupils coming to school with little or no food, snacks or money while 72% noted an increase in those without basic stationery, school-bags and PE equipment.
A total of 77% observed increased signs of poverty-related mental ill-health while 56% saw a rise in physical symptoms such as headaches, lethargy and unhealthy pallor.
Almost half (46%) said more pupils were unable to complete homework that required computer access at home.
Andrea Bradley, EIS assistant secretary for education and equality, said: "The results clearly underline that low-income poverty significantly blights the day-to-day educational experiences of the 260,000 children and young people now living in poverty in Scotland.
"To the EIS, it is an outrage that over a quarter of the country's school-aged young people whose families are struggling on low income are prevented from benefiting, on an equal footing to the rest of their peers, from the many opportunities offered by the education system.
"Urgent and decisive action at all levels of government is essential to prevent further damage. Children's education and life chances cannot continue to be sacrificed in the name of austerity.''
She welcomed additional funding for schools from the Scottish Government but said it was "against a backdrop of successive years of under-funding of comprehensive education, which must be addressed''.
"Recent announcements around school governance, while perhaps having the potential to fill current gaps in the pedagogical support and professional learning opportunities available to schools, leave many bigger questions about the policies and resources required to close the poverty-related attainment gap unanswered,'' she added.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman highlighted the "devastating impact of the UK Government's policy of continued austerity''.
She said: "It is deeply worrying that the impact of these polices is being increasingly seen by teachers and that is one reason why we are delivering an additional £120 million into the hands of schools as part of a £750 million total to help tackle the attainment gap.
"Despite cuts to our budget, we are mitigating the effect of welfare cuts wherever we can.
"This help totals over £350 million in welfare mitigation to try to protect the most vulnerable from the UK Government's austerity agenda and welfare cuts.
"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.''
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "It's appalling that so many children arrive in school underfed and without basic equipment.
"With new devolved social security powers, Scotland can boost the incomes of families that are struggling, for example by topping up child benefit by £5 a week which would lift 30,000 children out of poverty.''
Scottish Labour inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: "The EIS survey is a powerful lesson from teachers about the indignity of child poverty.
"Over the summer, SNP ministers should be using all the powers available to them to ensure that children and young people can return to school with enough food in their bellies, the clothing and equipment they need to take part in lessons, and enough teachers and support staff.
"More children are experiencing poverty-related mental ill health and experts back Scottish Labour's proposals for access to school-based counselling.
"The austerity agenda driven by the Tories may have caused a lot of these problems but SNP cuts are ripping support out of schools.''