Teachers bring sandwiches to school to feed hungry children as survey raises concerns over breakfast
09:00 15 January 2016
One in four teachers bring food to school to feed hungry children in the region.
Almost eight in 10 teachers (77%) also see children start the school day hungry at least once a week in the East of England, the YouGov poll found.
Last night, teachers in Suffolk warned children are “lethargic and tired” in the classroom and urged more schools to start breakfast clubs.
One teacher told the EADT she feels forced into bringing in sandwiches and fruit to feed her hungry children.
In the survey, three-quarters of teachers (74%) blamed families’ struggling finances for the current situation. Another 38% said parents were “too busy” to prepare a wholesome breakfast for their children.
Jeremy Pentreath, co-headteacher of The Oaks Primary School in Aster Road, Ipswich, described the findings as “concerning”.
He said: “Am I surprised? No, not really. We live in challenging times. Perhaps it is a sad reflection of where we are as a society that children aren’t particularly well looked after.
“(Parents being too busy to make breakfast) could be one reason. People are very busy in the morning and some children are left to fend for themselves, I am sure.
“As a headteacher, I feel I not only have a responsibility to educate children to the best possible standards, but also to make sure they are safe and their physical needs are met while at school.
“If we can help them get a good head start on that, by making sure they are well fed and looked after, I will do anything I can to make sure they have got the best possible chance.”
The academy, attended by 400 pupils, starts the breakfast club at 7.45am. Around 50 youngsters from families receiving qualifying benefits attend daily. Fruit, toast and cereal are offered, as well as bacon sandwiches on Fridays.
Mr Pentreath said it was launched partially to “combat” poor attendance and the number of students coming to school hungry.
When asked if more schools should offer the same provision, he added: “It can only help the children. Schools will have their reasons for running them or not, but for us, it works.”
A total of 11,791 pupils are eligible for free school meals in Suffolk. Last September, prime minister David Cameron committed his support to the scheme.
Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the NUT, said “Teachers will always do as much as they are able to ensure all pupils achieve their best at all times. This has now resulted in many teachers and support staff bringing in food to assist pupils learning.
“It is not a teacher’s responsibility to feed pupils or ensure they have had proper regular meals however because they care so much about pupils welfare and learning they do it.”
A government spokesman said: “Our reforms are improving the lives of some of the poorest families, and all infant pupils can now get free school meals, meaning 1.3million more children get a nutritious free meal at lunchtime, saving families hundreds of pounds.
“We are spending £1.1million to provide breakfast clubs in schools to help children start the day with a nutritious meal.”
One primary school teacher in Ipswich, who wished to remain anonymous, said she has been forced into bringing food to school to feed hungry children on “several occasions”.
She said: “Children come in and tell my they’re hungry in the morning, so I give them extra pieces of fruit or a sandwich or something like that.
“You can tell when the child is hungry because they are trying to get extra food. They go in to their pack lunches to try and find more food. It leaves them feeling very lethargic and tired in the classroom and you can’t get anything out of them. It has massive effects.
“But since the government introduced the free school meals scheme, I have been giving food to children less frequently, which is a good sign.”
She added: “I think more schools should have breakfast clubs. In Ipswich and Suffolk, I would say less than 40% of primary schools have them, due to staffing mainly.
“Some schools don’t have staff willing to do it, but others have teaching assistants who are paid to come in at 7.30am.
“But the job now is not just teaching. Some say it is teaching with social care; it is an expanded role where you are caring for children in the classroom, which takes up more of your time. It is no longer a 9am to 3pm job.”