• Child poverty impacts persistently on learning, with English state-school teachers commonly citing tiredness/fatigue (87%) and an inability to concentrate (81%) amongst the disadvantaged young people they teach.  
  • Members endorse a range of measures to tackle child poverty, including affordable school uniforms (93%), free internet access to children in households on Universal Credit (79%), and food vouchers for children on Free School Meals during school holidays (86%). 

Impact on Learning 

The State of Education survey is an extensive look at the current mood of the profession, including teachers, heads and leaders, and what they wish to see from Government. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference The consequences of child poverty for learning and engagement in the classroom were all to clear to NEU members responding to this survey. We asked them to identify the impacts on learning and they told us:

State of education chart 1

All impacts had been witnessed by the majority of teachers in English state schools, with the most commonly-reported categories being tiredness/fatigue (87%) and an inability to concentrate (81%). Two thirds (66%) had seen pupils attend school in unclean, damaged or ill-fitting clothes/shoes, and 58% reported pupils not having an appropriate or well-fitting school uniform or PE kit. 57% saw signs of hunger during the school day, and 55% of respondents said that disadvantaged children in their school were frequently ill. 

Child poverty has sharply increased in the UK and this is set to worsen with the cost-of-living crisis. Child Poverty Action Group reports that 4.3 million children were already living in poverty in the UK in 2019/20.

Respondents to our latest survey, told us:

“Students living in poverty are irrefutably disadvantaged in practical, social, emotional, behavioural and academic skills - even without the pandemic."

"We have a child who used to wrap up his school dinner to take home as he was never sure if there would be any dinner."

"We have had pupils sleeping on the floor or with severe overcrowding in their house."

What Needs to Happen 

When five different measures were proposed that could be used to support pupils living in poverty or on a low income, teachers showed strong support for all of them. 

State of education chart 2

The white space on each bar denotes ”neither agree nor disagree” responses, but even with this accepted some 93% felt certain that school uniform affordability was essential. 86% agreed that food vouchers should be provided during school holidays for children in receipt of free school meals. 84% welcomed the idea of a new technology budget for all state schools, and 79% wanted to see free internet access for children in households on Universal Credit. 72% of those with a view believed that the provision of free school meals for all primary school pupils – as planned in Wales – would make a difference.

We also invited respondents to the survey to put forward examples of their own school’s efforts to support disadvantaged pupils and students.

"A number of schools I regularly visit provide breakfast in the form of free hot toasted bagels every morning to every child. This is to help with hunger and ensure that they can start the day with food inside them enabling them to concentrate." 

"We have had to create a food bank within the school during the pandemic as so many of our families struggled. We had to do a lot of food drops during lockdown and still hold an open food bank to our families every two weeks as they are still struggling and would have no food without us."

"I've been working really hard at building confidence in students and having an open-door policy for students to come and talk to me, building strong relationships with them."

"Our head teacher regularly buys winter coats, shoes and other warm clothes for pupils."

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Our members know all too well the impacts on learning of child poverty and have borne witness to the worsening problem of poverty in society in recent years. The NEU is proud of all those school leaders, teachers and support staff who looked out for every child in their care during the pandemic and continue to do so. Where government dithered or fought pointlessly over laptops and free school meals, our members were getting the job done – and making a difference to many young lives. The NEU’s £1 million effort to support schools with essentials was also part of this mission to support the most disadvantaged in our society.

“What is all too clear from today’s survey finding is that this work is far from finished. It is long overdue that government fixes the visible inequalities in schools which are completely within their gift to correct.

“But schools cannot counter the deep inequality in home learning environments and family income alone. The government must urgently commit to a cross-department child poverty strategy. Regrettably, the Schools White Paper has nothing to say on this vital issue – instead continuing with the government’s tin-eared, skewed, ideological priorities of marketisation. It should not have to be a point of debate that disadvantaged children are the most vulnerable to learning loss and need the full support of government. Boris Johnson must fix his policy of half-measures when it comes to education recovery.”

Editor’s Note

The National Education Union State of Education survey was conducted online through membership and received 1,788 responses from English state school teachers between 24 February – 8 March 2022. The relevant data tables are provided.


Note to editors

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  • The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.  
  • It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.  
  • The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.