CHILDREN are turning up to school hungry and skipping lunchtime meals as they cannot afford to eat, according to the latest research.
Some youngsters have been spotted stealing toast as they are so hungry, and a teacher found two girls sharing a packed lunch in the school toilets when one had no money for food, according to a report by the Children’s Society charity.
And, last night, North East head teachers said children were going hungry and many showed up without an adequate packed lunch.
June Foster, executive head teacher of the Arthurs Hill Federation in Newcastle, said: “Over the years in the schools I have worked in I have had experience of children going hungry and we have provided breakfast clubs to give them a good start to the day.
“Sometimes, children come to school and they haven’t got an adequate packed lunch or show signs of being hungry. If we think the children are hungry we will contact parents.”
The study, based on a survey of around 570 teachers, reveals serious concerns among school staff about the levels of hunger among pupils. Almost three in four of the teachers surveyed said they have seen pupils coming into school with no lunch and no way to pay for one.
And nearly half said that children are often, or very often, hungry during the school day.
The study, conducted with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT), also reveals that two-thirds of school staff say that teachers are providing pupils with food or money for meals if they turn up for lessons hungry.
According to The Children’s Society’s figures, more than half of the 2.2 million children living in poverty in England miss out on a free school meal each day.
Of these, around 700,000 are not entitled to one, and a further 500,000 do not take them up because of barriers such as fear of bullying or being stigmatised, the charity said.
Joe Waddle, the NUT’s divisional secretary for North Tyneside, said: “The problem is that quite a number of families who are actually entitled to free school meals don’t claim them. They think children are going to be isolated at school and they don’t want that stigma.
“We need to raise people’s awareness about free school meals, and that it is completely confidential.”
Breakfast clubs in schools across the North East have increased in the past decade as teachers try to combat children coming to school on an empty stomach.
Bakery giant Greggs operate 77 of their own breakfast clubs, 60 of which they fund and a further 17 clubs with partner businesses. The company feeds around 4,000 primary school children every day in the region.
Statistics released by Save the Children also showed that around 200,000 children in the region are now existing in severely poverty-stricken conditions, without enough food to eat or clothes to keep warm.
The damning findings show a huge increase from 2010, when 73,000 children were living in extreme hardship.
Meanwhile, the report from the Children’s Society also raised concerns about the size of school lunches.
While more than half said that lunches were an adequate size, around a third said that they were quite small or inadequate.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “This report sets out shocking evidence of just how much hardship teachers up and down the country are witnessing in classrooms day in, day out.
“Something is going badly wrong when teachers themselves are having to feed children.
“Every child in poverty should be given a free school meal.
“Free school meals are key to moving children out of poverty and vital to helping them flourish.”