“Food, clothes, a mattress and three funerals. What teachers buy for children”

“.. . In 2014 Gemma Morton, the headteacher of a large secondary school, told Education Guardian her school had helped to pay for the funeral of a student whose family couldn’t afford it, even after they had sold their car. Three years on, she has helped to pay for two more funerals. “When a child dies, nobody’s saved for it,” says Morton. “There is literally nowhere for families to go apart from the people they already know, and most of them are poverty-struck too.” 

… At Gill Williams’s primary school in the north-west of England, local supermarkets deliver bread and fresh vegetables three times a week, which are placed in the playground for parents to help themselves. There is rarely a crumb left. …

… Georgia Easton, a secondary teacher, always carries a few pounds in her pocket for children who have “forgotten” their dinner money. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Kids saying ‘I had one slice of toast for tea.’” She estimates she spends about £10 a week of her own money on food and other shopping for needy pupils. That’s £380 per year. Gemma Kay, a food science teacher, spends much the same. “You hear kids talking about how in the holidays their parents are going to the food bank because they relied on free school meals in the week. It’s just very sad,” she says. “With changes to benefits, you’d know parents were on less money.” …

… Williams asked her leadership team to compile a list of the school’s recent expenditure on personal items for students and their families. It included school shoes, bus passes, uniform when the pupil welfare department said a child didn’t meet their criteria; a pregnancy test for a mother who arrived at school in turmoil; an entire food shop after a home visit when it was apparent there was nothing to eat in the house; a mattress for a child sleeping on a sofa; and a bedroom carpet when social services said bare floorboards were acceptable.

… Her school has put aside a sliver of budget, known as the social inclusion fund, for crisis situations, which has to be repaid. The fund has helped to guarantee a child’s physical safety during a criminal trial, when the family felt in danger: Williams paid for a week’s rental on a caravan out of the area.

… She also used the fund to install a safety gate in a family’s house after first trying and failing to fit it herself. “The children were unsafe without one and I couldn’t leave them another night in the space.”

… She observes pointedly that the local authority was unable to help. Thresholds of need for support by social services departments have increased and emergency grant and loan funds have been cut.

“There was mum with two teenage boys who’d been made homeless and put into one room,” says Easton. “I took them to Asda and got new shirts, trousers and shoes. It came out of staff pockets because much as school wanted to pay, it couldn’t.”