Last reviewed 22 August 2023

According to a new report by the Faculty of Education and Society at University College London (UCL), schools are carrying an unequal burden of responding to long-term poverty that risks going unseen in policy.

The 67-page report, Food Banks in Schools: Educational Responses to the Cost-of-living Crisis, raises concerns that the work schools are doing to support their communities is not recognised by inspections or wider policy and is either precariously funded or not funded at all.

It explores what motivates schools to provide food banks, and how they operate them, through case studies of six primary schools in England. The report highlights the risks of exacerbating disparities between schools that serve disadvantaged versus advantaged communities.

According to UCL, the results serve to illustrate the current depth of need experienced by struggling families, with the aid these schools offering now stretching beyond food to include clothing, uniform, shoes and household products and toiletries.

After the Covid-19 pandemic raised awareness of families’ food insecurity, school leaders seem to have been emboldened to step in and resolve social problems themselves in the absence of outside support, the report suggests.

The daily opportunity to talk to parents when parents drop off and collect their children meant that teachers were “keenly aware” of issues faced by their pupil’s families, more than might occur at secondary schools, the authors note.

Research Assistant Sharon Vince said: “Children are arriving at school too hungry to learn, whilst financial pressures are causing stress amongst families, impacting upon relationships and learning at home.”

However, she concluded, while this work has frequently continue or expanded since the pandemic, the time and resources dedicated to this help is no longer recognised in policy.