Norfolk schools de-licing pupils’ hair and washing uniforms to help parents suffering from welfare cuts
PUBLISHED: 16:22 15 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:43 15 March 2019
Schools in Norfolk are washing pupils’ uniforms and giving them hair cuts to ease pressures on parents left struggling after welfare cuts.
In an effort to support pupils and families suffering from high levels of deprivation, senior school staff say they are also heavily subsidising school trips and uniforms.
It comes as a survey of 400 education leaders found that more than 95pc believe pupil poverty has worsened in recent years as local authority support for children and families has been cut back.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) poll, published ahead of the union’s annual conference on Friday, found nine in 10 state-funded secondary schools had provided clothing for the most disadvantaged pupils while 47pc had washed children’s clothes.
At Mile Cross Primary School, serving one of Norwich’s most deprived areas, deputy headteacher Toby Whalen says staff “desperately want to avoid” asking parents for additional funds.
Almost two thirds of the “outstanding” primary school’s 450 pupils are supported by the pupil premium, a financial top-up given for disadvantaged children.
Mr Whalen said the school provided all pupils with pencils, pens and a free breakfast, sold uniforms at cost price and had invested in four minibuses so parents’ costs for school trips were kept to a minimum.
It has also used funds from the government’s sugar tax, some of which has been invested to help schools promote healthier lifestyles, to buy more toasters so it can feed hungry pupils more quickly.
“We have always supported families within the school community,” he said.
“We have a washing machine and dryer on site so we can wash children’s clothes without causing embarrassment to the families.
“I don’t think anything has changed [with austerity]. Even the government has recognised the need within Norwich with the Opportunity Area.”
The Opportunity Areas scheme, launched by the government in 2017, aims to improve social mobility for disadvantaged children in 12 “cold spots” including Norwich and Ipswich.
Almost 45pc of leaders polled in the ASCL survey said they provided foodbanks or food parcels for pupils and their families.
North Denes Primary School in Great Yarmouth, where around half of its 300 pupils are classed as disadvantaged, set up its own foodbank last year to support children who were “too hungry to learn”. It also offers toast and a drink to all pupils before the start of lessons and gives cooking classes to parents to help them manage on a shoestring budget.
Headteacher Debbie Whiting said the school also provided clothes, shoes and PE kits for pupils and had even been called upon to cut and de-louse children’s hair. “It is more than just deprived children, it is a deprived education service,” she said.
“We have just received our budget for the year and I don’t know how we are going to make it work. The extra little bit of grant funding the government has given us is nowhere near enough. Something is going to have to happen.”
Almost all (99pc) of educators polled by the ASCL said they had seen increased demand for in-school mental health support – but nearly as many (98pc) said they had experienced difficulty accessing such support for pupils.
Ms Whiting said North Denes Primary had established a wellbeing support team, which helped families with problems from debt management to children’s mental health and even conducted home visits.
City College Norwich has also invested heavily in mental health services for pupils after seeing an increase in demand for support. Deputy principal Jerry White estimated 30pc of the college’s students came from areas with “socio-economic challenges”.
He said the college, which has around 7,000 students, gives out more than £1m a year in bursaries to disadvantaged students to help them fund transport – with hour-long journeys common for those travelling from rural areas – and to buy equipment for vocational courses such as steel toe-cap boots, chef’s whites or beauticians tools. But he said neither bursary nor core funding was increasing to match demand.
“Colleges have seen a 30pc real-terms funding cut over the last decade or so. We are always juggling to make sure that the resources we are spending are having the most impact on the most needy students.”
Schools a ‘fourth emergency service’
Schools have become the “unofficial fourth emergency service”, according to the head of a national union.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton, a former headteacher in Suffolk, was speaking ahead of the union’s annual conference in Birmingham.
He said: “A decade of austerity has wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the nation and schools have been left to pick up the pieces while coping with real-term funding cuts.
“They have become an unofficial fourth emergency service for poor and vulnerable children, providing food and clothing and filling in the gaps left by cutbacks to local services.”
A government spokeswoman said: “Teachers shouldn’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted by this survey, and we’re already taking action to make sure that they don’t have to.”
She added that the government was spending £90bn annually on welfare.