SCHOOLS in East Lancashire are doing all they can to stop pupils living in poverty from going hungry.
A shocking survey said two thirds of UK teachers said staff provided pupils with food or money if they come into school hungry, according to a Children’s Society report, carried out in partnership with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).
But Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council said they had a strong uptake in free school meals, with around 90 per cent of eligible children taking advantage of the benefit.
The ‘Food for Thought’ survey shows nearly three-quarters of teachers reported seeing children coming to school with no lunch and no means to pay for one.
But union bosses said a school dinner could be the child’s only hot meal of the day. Simon Jones, national executive member for the National union of Teachers (NUT), said: “East Lancashire is one of the most deprived areas in the country and some families find it difficult to provide healthy but cheap food for their children at home.
“I have heard anecdotal evidence of teachers providing pupils with food, and I have done it myself as a teacher, and the problem is getting worse.
“For some, this may be the child’s only hot meal of the day. The children are the real casualties of the government’s austerity measures which are hitting the poorest families the hardest.”
The Society’s separate Fair and Square report found that 300,000 of the 1.3 million children registered for free school meals are not taking advantage of them — mainly due to the stigma attached.
County Councillor Susie Charles, cabinet member for children and schools, said: "Good, regular nutrition is essential if children are to concentrate on their lessons and enjoy school life, and in Lancashire we do everything we can to help.
“Our catering service provides reasonably priced, healthy and appetising school meals that meet nutritional standards and we provide breakfast clubs where these are required by individual schools.
"We are always particularly keen to reach out to parents who are eligible for free school meals for their children and we do this in a number of ways including liaising with our district council partners and school leaders.
“Free school meals have the double benefit of not only providing a child with a nutritious two course lunch but also bringing in additional funding for their school via the Pupil Premium.”
The Children’s society recommends that all children in poverty should get free school meals, and that a cashless system should be implemented to de-stigmatise the benefit.