Cuts so acute schools becoming ‘mini welfare states’

Schools are becoming “mini welfare states” spending millions of pounds a year on supporting poor children and plugging funding gaps in public services, headteachers are warning.

The vast majority of school leaders say they are giving more unfunded help to youngsters from deprived backgrounds, offering everything from food and clothes to covering transport costs and completing official paperwork for families.

In some cases, school workers are buying birthday presents and cards for pupils who are unlikely to receive any, washing children’s clothes at school, offering lifts to and from home or after-school clubs, providing headlice treatment and haircuts, and attending legal, medical and social services appointments with parents, according to a study by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

Russell Hobby, the union’s general secretary warned that despite promises by political parties to protect education spending, cuts to other areas of public services “will come home to roost at the school gates”.

In total, 84% of the more than 2,000 NAHT members questioned said they are providing more support for children from deprived backgrounds than five years ago. The same proportion said they think a change in families’ financial circumstances is one of the main reasons for the rise in need.

The typical amount spent by primary schools out of their own budgets on extra support is around £2,000, the NAHT calculated, while for secondary schools it is £3,000.

It added that with more than 16,700 state-funded secondary schools in England as of January last year, and more than 3,300 state-funded secondaries, this equates to a national annual total of £43.5 million.

Mr Hobby said: “Regardless of the promise to protect education spending in the next parliament, cuts to other public services will come home to roost at the school gates. Schools are already finding that they are providing unfunded support. Our research estimates that this costs all state schools around £43.5 million per year.

“This is money that schools are having to find to help families who have been left high and dry by cuts to public services. This pressure is only going to increase. We know that whichever political party holds power after next week, deeper cuts are coming.”

The union leader said teachers are having to step in and help out of their “own time and pockets”.

“Schools are starting to provide miniature welfare states to fill in the gaps that are emerging,” Mr Hobby suggested.

He gave an example of one school which is having to give children toothbrushes and make sure they brush their teeth twice a day.

The findings, which come as the union meets for its annual conference in Liverpool, show that two-thirds (67%) of those polled say their school is now funding services previously provided by health and social care.

Of these, many said they were providing mental health support, with others saying they are supplying speech and language therapy, school attendance and welfare officers and co-ordinating child protection meetings.

Other examples of help given by schools included PE kits, family tickets for events, and running foodbanks.

Mr Hobby said the fact that political parties are pledging to protect the schools budget in real terms “is fairly meaningless if we’re shifting other things across to schools”.

“We shouldn’t be expecting teachers to be funding anything out of their own pockets, but they are,” he said. “It’s a sign that the Government has stretched budgets so that other people are filling in the gaps.”

He added: “I think the reason we did this (the survey) and the message we want to send is not ‘Who is to blame?’ – whoever was in power would have been making cuts – we want honesty around what we’re expecting of schools.”

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: “David Cameron’s plan for extreme cuts – double the cuts next year than this – plus his refusal to match Labour’s plan to protect the entire education budget in real terms, means a perfect storm is brewing for children and young people. Labour has a better plan – protecting early years education, school spending and post-16 education in real terms.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “The Conservatives will protect the amount of money spent on every child, unlike Labour, who fail to account for a rapid increase in pupil numbers.

“That means we’ll spend half a billion pounds more on schools than Labour would in the next five years.

“Under the Conservatives, the number of children living in poverty has fallen by 300,000. By introducing the Pupil Premium, we are specifically targeting an extra £2.5 billion toward the education of the most disadvantaged every year, which is helping close the attainment gap with their peers.”

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