The findings reveal a stark picture. Many students do not have access to the basic essentials for learning. Given the potential for Covid to continue causing disruption for weeks or months, establishing what children and young people actually need is vital.

The survey found that:

  • 55% of members have seen an increase in child poverty at their school or college since March 2020, the start of the first national lockdown.
  • Virtually all respondents (95%) teach students who have limited or no access to learning resources at home. Four in five members (81%) are seeing families ask for extra support from their school or college to provide learning resources such as pens, paper, and books.
  • Respondents to the survey agree that access to these practical materials improves wellbeing and reduces anxiety (65%), opens up a wider learning experience (71%) and boosts engagement and self-confidence when learning from home (75%).

Supporting engagement is critical to ensuring that learning and independent study can happen successfully. Our members made additional observations in their responses:

“It’s not a level playing field, children not having resources lowers their self-esteem.”

“Children do not like to admit that they are not the same as others who are well off. Parents feel depressed that they cannot provide something.”

“I work with 6th form and even at that level they don’t have the resources they need for notetaking and essay practice.”

“No resources means they don’t want to share their work, they don’t take as much pride in it because they don’t think it’s good enough before they even begin.”

The survey coincides with our Help a Child to Learn campaign, launched with the Daily Mirror. The fund will deliver vouchers to schools so that they can continue to support pupils through purchasing the learning resources they need, in the way schools think will have the most impact on learning and engagement.

In addition to laptops and routers, remote education requires families to have the ‘basics’, including pens, paper, pencils and revision guides. Access to these practical learning materials makes a big difference to the quality of learning and pupils’ wellbeing. For remote education to be effective, it has to comprise some elements of students working on their own, using materials at home, offline. This will mean different activities depending on the age of the year group.

Our survey also found:

  • When asked what proportion of their pupils do not have the learning materials needed for learning at home, one in four members who responded (27%) estimated that half or more of their pupils were in this situation. Just 7% of respondents could say their pupils were fully equipped.
  • The most common items which pupils are struggling to access are paper and pens and pencils, reading books, and maths/science equipment. Respondents also note specialist materials for exam subjects, such as sheet music and materials for art and design.
  • NEU members tell us they have reached into their own pockets to pay for these supplies. Almost half (48%) have said they have bought pens and pencils for their pupils. One quarter (25%) have bought glue sticks. They have also bought paper (32%) and reading books (29%).

“The older students struggle to buy revision guides and A-level textbooks of their own if the school cannot resource them.”

“Limits teaching of Science, Music & Art learning at home. The very activities i.e. art and music which contribute to wellbeing and reduction of anxiety.”

“My class has 90% pupil premium children, in an area of high deprivation. The children don’t have pens, paper or appropriate devices.”

“Not all students have a textbook or revision guide so we are trying to scan materials and support them to make their own revision materials.”

We asked members to tell us of any recent concerns about particular students who are affected by poverty and a lack of material learning resources. They told us:

“Pupils would bring in ‘work’ or ‘drawings’ which were on flyers or sheets of toilet paper in biro due to lack of resources at home.”

“I have to print and provide paper packs for home learning for all pupils in my class. We have also supplied them with a pencil, sharpener and rubber so they can complete these packs.”

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“This is a stark picture of life in Covid Britain, where child poverty has significantly worsened since the first national lockdown in March 2020. School leaders, teachers and support staff are doing everything they can to support the students in their care. Our members are deeply affected by and anxious about the level of need they witness and the fact that financial pressure is being visited upon more families. Teachers and support staff are using their salaries to pay for the practical resources needed by their students to make learning at home effective and fulfilling.

“Our members can only do so much, individually. That is why we have launched Help a Child to Learn, a campaign with the Daily Mirror, to get funds into schools to help them continue to sustain learning from home with the practical resources that children need.”


Editor’s note

2,645 members in England and Wales responded to the online survey, which was conducted between Thursday 21 January 2021 and Monday 25 January 2021.