Thursday, 27 December 2012

Coalition Poverty

Too many children are going hungry or cold. Wages are down for those lucky enough to have a job, benefits down for the rest. And all they see is scroungers, its being in denial. For most jobseekers there is almost no work anyway, try it and see for yourself. Even with decades of experience applications rarely get any responce.

"The headteacher of the school featured in the reality television series Educating Essex has described using his own money to buy a winter coat for a boy whose parents could not afford one, in a symptom of an escalating economic crisis that has seen the number of pupils in the area taking home food parcels triple in a year.

Vic Goddard, whose secondary school in Harlow, Passmores Academy, is rated outstanding by Ofsted, told the Guardian that even children with a parent or parents in work were often struggling and having to choose between heating their homes, buying their children clothes or having enough food.

He said: "It's not because the parents are bone idle. It's not the stereotype of scrounging parents. These people are not happy their children are hungry, or aren't warm enough. But they don't know what to do about it because there's no jobs."

He recounted being in a meeting when a colleague mentioned a boy who had arrived at school in below-zero temperatures wearing just a thin, sleeveless bodywarmer. Goddard said he then left the meeting and sought out the pupil: "We went straight to Primark and I bought him a coat with my own money. He's now got a coat. I'll be honest, it made me feel better. It made me feel that I was doing something to make a difference, whereas so many times I'm putting sticking plaster over something. But now this person is going to walk home warm, and if he has to sit in a house with his coat on he'll still be warm."

Numerous schools have reported a significant increase in deprivation among pupils. A report last week by the Children's Society in association with two teaching unions found that two-thirds of teachers knew of school staff providing pupils with food or money to prevent them going hungry.

"We got someone from an external agency to visit a house because we wanted some extra support. She sent me an email which said, 'Just to let you know, the house is cold, there's no food in and there's certainly no sign of Christmas.' This boy's 11 years old. It's just unfair that we're taking away these children's childhood and what should be a magical time.

The number of pupils receiving help with food and similar issues had increased threefold in a year, Goddard said, with increasing numbers staying almost until the school canteen closed at 8.30pm to stay warm or eat. He said: "I wouldn't dream of throwing away food now. At the end of the day if we've got food left it goes on a table and kids take it."

He said: "Initially, as a teacher, you see it as a parenting problem. Actually, they have to prioritise because money is so tight. What parent in the world should have to make that choice? It's really emotionally draining. Why are they in that position? How has that been allowed to happen to them? We suffer from working poverty a lot in our town. We're a working class town and they have working class values. Our parents are trying not to take benefits, the majority of them. But in doing that they're having to make some very tough choices, and I don't think that's fair."

Such pastoral care is an ever-increasing – and vital – part of teachers' jobs, Goddard said, calling the public focus on tests and league tables "a smokescreen" for bigger problems.

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