THERE is a huge increase in the number of teenagers going hungry during the summer holidays, a National Education Union (NEU) poll finds today. A snapshot survey of 657 secondary teachers by the NEU shows the growing concern amongst teachers that young people are not getting enough food to eat over the summer holidays.
Teachers said they thought holiday hunger is affecting more children now than three years ago and there was a strong concern that local initiatives designed to tackle it – including food banks – are not equipped to meet demand. • More than half (59%) of NEU members polled confirmed that children in their school experienced holiday hunger. • 77% of respondents said that in the last three years the situation in their school had either got worse (51%) or stayed the same (26%).
• When asked about local provision outside of school designed to tackle holiday hunger, teachers pointed to food banks (50%), charitable/voluntary organisations (26%) and faith groups (19%).
• 59% felt that the combined provision in their area was insufficient to tackle holiday hunger. By contrast, just 5% thought that it would be enough.
Amongst the additional comments on the survey, members said: ‘Too many people don’t know how to get to those provisions and less funding and donations means less food available for families.’
‘I don’t think everyone that needs help uses or is aware of the help available. Services are overstretched as it is.’
‘I see children come back to school in September looking visibly less well nourished.’ ‘There is no co-ordination and often these families fall into the divide and suffer badly.’ ‘We have 51% (of students on) free school meals and I’ve seen no local provision.’ ‘When many of our children are struggling to get enough food during term time (when over 50% get at least one good meal per day as they are FSM (Free School Meals)), the problem will obviously be exacerbated during the holidays.’
Commenting on the findings, Ros McNeil, Assistant General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Teachers are acutely aware of the devastating effects of holiday hunger on children’s mental and physical wellbeing. ‘Such extensive poverty simply should not exist in a country with the fifth-largest economy. Food banks, faith groups and charitable/voluntary organisations are now being left to pick up the pieces where central government has failed.
‘Indeed, rather than fix the problem of child poverty, the government has instead attempted to redefine it. ‘Of the services available, demand will clearly outstrip supply. ‘It is shameful that the safety net is so threadbare. ‘The government must take steps to tackle the issue of holiday hunger through properly funded and resourced programmes.
‘Given the scale of the problem, the government’s announcement of £2 million additional funds to help disadvantaged children with food and fun over the holidays, while welcome, goes nowhere near far enough to tackle the desperate plight of families and children.’ The survey was sent out over the weekend of 28-29 July.
Q Do you think that children in your school experience ‘holiday hunger’, i.e. their families are unable to afford enough food during the summer break (Single choice) A Yes 59% No 12% Not Sure 29%
Q What is your opinion of the situation with holiday hunger in your school in the last three years? (Single choice) A It’s got better 1% It’s about the same 26% It’s got worse 51% Not sure 22%
Q Are you aware of any local provision, outside of your school, which is designed to tackle holiday hunger, and if so, who runs it? (Multiple choice) A Charitable/voluntary organisation 26% Faith group 19% Food bank 50% Local authority 4% Other organisation 3% Not aware of any other provision 42 Q In your opinion, does the combination of provision inside and outside your school meet local need in your school’s area? (Single choice) A Yes 5% No 59% Not Sure 36%
Meanwhile, the Tory government has been ‘complicit’ in an illegal policy that saw a school force out pupils unlikely to achieve high grades, campaigners have claimed. They said the Department for Education did not take punitive steps against the head at St Olave’s school in south-east London because it was partly to blame.
The DfE’s increasingly stringent league table criteria forces schools into ‘dubious’ policies, campaigners said. The DfE said it wrote to schools to say such expulsions were illegal last year.
The practice, found to be illegal in an independent inquiry commissioned by Bromley Council, was introduced and overseen at the school in Orpington over a seven-year period by former headmaster Aydin Önaç. It was reversed in September when a group of parents threatened a judicial review and Önaç resigned at the end of 2017.
Önaç has since been referred to the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) regulatory body, but Andrew Gebbett, who has two sons at St Olave’s, said the DfE should have ‘taken the lead’. The DfE said it wrote to secondary schools reminding them the policy was unlawful. Education law specialist Anita Chopra said it was usual for such referrals to be made by an employer or a parent.
She said if the TRA decided Önaç’s case was worth investigating, he could be banned from teaching.
Official guidance states employers, in this case St Olave’s school, have a ‘statutory duty to consider referral of cases involving serious professional misconduct to the TRA’, even when a teacher has resigned before they could have been dismissed.
The school said a referral was ‘considered, but due to a lack of evidence was not felt appropriate’.
Michael Pyke, spokesman for the Campaign for State Education, said it was ‘hardly surprising’ Önaç was not facing any repercussions because ‘he wasn’t the only person who knew about this practice’. ‘The DfE, the local council, the diocese – they’re all complicit,’ he said.
Nuala Burgess, spokeswoman for campaign group Comprehensive Future, said she believed the DfE was complicit by ‘indirectly forcing schools to do these things’. DfE policies placing increasing importance on league tables drove schools into ‘all sorts of dubious practices, including the “weeding out” of year 12s’, said Ms Burgess, who recently completed a doctorate into sixth form selective practices.
A spokesperson for Bromley Council said it wrote to the school a day after receiving the first complaint about the exclusion policy in July 2017. The Diocese of Rochester, which is involved in the running of the school, said it accepted the report, which it said made clear the relationship between the diocese education board, council and school needed to be better. ‘This is something that is much more positive now,’ it claimed. The report does not make any mention of the TRA or a possible referral. ‘Young lives ruined’
Rhonda Galpeer, whose daughter previously went to St Olave’s, said: ‘I can’t believe Mr Önaç has got away so easily with everything. No sanctions have been put on him.’ Debbie Hills, another parent of an ex-pupil, added: ‘None of these people has been held to account, yet young lives have been ruined because all those professionals put in place to protect them all chose to do nothing.’
Before his time at St Olave’s, Önaç was at Fortismere School in Haringey where he was criticised by parents for reducing provision for children with special educational needs.
A group of parents were in the process of going to judicial review on behalf of their children at Fortismere, the council-commissioned report said, but he left before they could take that further, to take up his role at St Olave’s. ‘He resigned there too before they could take him to court,’ Galpeer said. ‘He has a history. He should be banned.’
Thousands ‘off-rolled’ Pyke and Burgess believe St Olave’s is ‘only the tip of the iceberg’ and the practice of ‘off-rolling’ under-achieving students is widespread. In 2017, more than 22,000 children were ‘off-rolled’ from state schools before sitting their GCSE exams, according to think tank Education Datalab.
The majority of them were recorded as having transferred to ‘alternative provision’ – something Pyke described as a ‘dubious form of education in which most children achieve nothing at all’. Most off-rolling, Pyke said, happens at schools teaching ‘pupils from deprived homes, who don’t have anyone to speak up for them’. He said St Olave’s ‘got caught because its students’ parents came from well-to-do homes’. He added it was a ‘regrettable one-off, but it won’t deter other schools’.