Poverty has a significant impact on the educational experience and attainment of many children growing up in the UK. Moreover, research indicates there is a stronger relationship between parental social background and children’s test scores in England than in many other rich countries.

Teachers are committed to the principle that education can make an enormous difference to children’s lives, but schools and teachers alone cannot address society-wide inequity and the effects of poverty on educational achievement. It is the responsibility of Government to create the conditions in which all children can thrive and learn.

The academic literature is very clear: differences in the social background of pupils are the primary factors causing inequality in educational outcomes.

Child poverty and its impact on learning

Increased concern about worsening levels of child poverty and its impact on learning was highlighted in the NEU's 2019 State of Education survey. Members are deeply concerned by the effects of poverty and low income on the learning of their students, with an overwhelming 91% agreeing it to be a factor. Education professionals are reporting a significant increase in the visibility of child poverty in their school/college and provided us with many distressing examples from daily life.

Some students have mentioned that they have not had any food for two days, some come without having breakfast and with no dinner money but are not on free school meals.

When asked in a multiple-choice question to identify the impacts on learning that could be attributed to poverty, over three-quarters of respondents told us that their students demonstrated fatigue (78%), poor concentration (76%) or poor behaviour (75%). More than half of members said their students had experienced hunger (57%) or ill health (50%) as a result of poverty, and more than a third (35%) said students had been bullied because of it.

  • Child poverty and its impact on pupils

    NEU members witness the heart breaking ways that poverty and deprivation affect children’s learning, well-being and happiness

Holiday hunger

A 2018 NEU survey of secondary school teachers showed increasing concern that young people are not getting enough food to eat over the summer holidays, with more than half (59%) of members polled confirmed that children in their school experienced holiday hunger and 77% of respondents saying that in the last three years the situation in their school had either got worse (51%) or stayed the same (26%). 

I see children come back to school in September looking visibly less well nourished.

Teachers said they thought holiday hunger is affecting more children now than 3 years ago and there was a strong concern that local initiatives designed to tackle it – including food banks – are not equipped to meet demand.

Research and comment

  • Press release press release abstract
    NEU Cymru comment on child poverty figures released today

    Commenting on Child Poverty figures released today, David Evans, Wales Secretary for the National Education Union said: "Rates of poverty in Wales have risen when compared to other parts of the UK is shocking - but it is not a shock."

  • Press release Press release image1
    Child poverty harms children’s educational opportunities

    Growing child poverty is affecting children’s learning, say NEU education professionals, and schools and education staff are increasingly providing the services and essentials of daily life to stop families falling through the cracks

  • Press release Press release image1
    School Holiday Poverty

    Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, has commented on the Government’s school holiday programme for disadvantaged children.

  • Press release press release abstract
    Tackling child poverty is key for success in education

    Reacting to the debate on "Tackling Poverty" in the Assembly yesterday, David Evans, Wales secretary NEU Cymru said: "NEU Cymru members are clear - tackling poverty is a critical issue for education professionals in Wales, and key to improving schools and colleges for learners"