Nearly one-third of primary school teachers report more pupils showing up to class hungry

Press Release

Wednesday 5 June 2024

A new report suggests a growing number of primary school children are showing up to class hungry.

NFER’s report The ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis on schools is based on a survey of 1,282 teachers and senior leaders across mainstream primary and secondary schools. 

It offers insights into how the increased cost of living is contributing to pressures on schools and looks at how staff are responding to these challenges​.

This is a follow-up to a report NFER released last autumn and reinforces the seriousness of schools’ financial positions identified in other recent studies. 

This year, 31 percent of primary school respondents said more children were showing up to class hungry, with 40 per cent reporting an increase in pupils arriving without adequate clothing i.

Worryingly, 79 per cent of primary school teachers (and 62 per cent of secondary school) said they were spending their own money purchasing items for pupils. Nineteen per cent of primary teachers said they were specifically spending money on pupils’ pastoral needs e.g. clothing or food.

Around one in four primary teachers and over one in five secondary teachers estimated having spent over £100 so far this academic year ii.

The report also suggests that the financial position of schools is continuing to deteriorate and that most primary schools are cutting spending on targeted learning support (e.g., tutoring) and learning resources to plug holes in budgets. Almost all school senior leaders (93 per cent of primary and 87 per cent of secondary leaders) report making cuts in at least one area in response to cost pressures.  

Budget pressures are also hampering school leaders from making much needed improvements to school buildings. Almost half (46 per cent) of primary senior leaders and a third (33 per cent) of secondary senior leaders report making cuts to planned spending on building improvements and new buildings in response to current cost pressures.   

NFER’s Co-Head of UK Policy and Practice, Jude Hillary, said:

“This report clearly highlights the high level of need among young people, and the risk of it becoming an entrenched and persistent challenge for pupils, families and staff, particularly in more disadvantaged schools.” 

“The cost of living is one of a number of significant cost pressures leading to schools having to make incredibly difficult trade-offs in their core provision - including staffing, teaching and learning. 

“Teachers are going above and beyond to meet pupils’ pastoral needs using their personal funds. This unrecognised, informal support is being offered at a time when teachers individually continue to face their own financial pressures.” 

The report also said that:

  • Most schools continue to provide food parcels, subsidised breakfasts and uniform/clothing to pupils iii
  • 32 per cent of primary teachers and school leaders reported an increase in pupils arriving at lessons without the necessary books or equipment i
  • The take-up of food parcels/banks and subsidised breakfasts in deprived schools is significantly higher than in more affluent schools​. 
  • 31 per cent of primary teachers reported an increased in the number of pupils lacking access to a suitable working environment outside of school i
  • A lack of access to support from external agencies continues to be a challenge for teachers, particularly around mental health​.
  • Schools continue to make cuts to staffing, spending on trips and enrichment activities and building maintenance due to cost pressures​.

The report recommends:

  1. Extend the current eligibility for free school meals to ensure pupils in need who do not meet the current eligibility criteria can benefit. At the absolute minimum, this should involve uprating the income threshold for eligibility to reflect inflationary pressures since 2018/19 1.
  2. Provide targeted financial support to help schools address pupil’s well-being needs, alongside meeting the additional direct costs (e.g., salary and running costs) associated with current cost pressures.
  3. Increase the capacity and responsiveness of CYPMHS and the wider support around families to ensure pupils can access the appropriate support and specialist services in a timely manner, rather than schools and teachers having to step in to fill those gaps in support. This could include revisiting current levels of welfare support for families.

Notes to editors

(i) In our survey conducted last year (April/May 2023), primary teachers reported on average that:

  • 12 per cent of their pupils were coming into school hungry;
  • 12 per cent of their pupils were coming into school without adequate clothes;
  • 13 percent of their pupils coming into school without necessary books or equipment and;
  • 22 per cent of their pupils lacked access to a suitable working environment at home.

(ii) Between September 2023 and March 2024.

(iii) In March 2023, senior leaders reported in:

  • 71 per cent of primary and 72 per cent of secondary schools that they were providing food parcels (including food banks/vouchers) to some pupils;
  • 94 per cent of primary and 96 per cent of secondary schools that they were providing uniform and clothing to some pupils; and
  • 69 per cent of primary and 79 per cent of secondary schools that they were providing subsidised breakfasts to some pupils.

Additional Notes

  1. The income threshold for free school meal eligibility has remained at £7,400 since 2018/19, despite high levels of inflation since then.