Over 87 per cent of schools in England are reporting providing uniforms and clothing to some pupils to tackle the impacts of cost-of-living pressures, a new report finds.
Findings within NFER’s report, Cost-of-living crisis: Impact on schools – pupils and families, reveal the increased pressures on pupils and their families means over 90 per cent of primary, secondary and special schools are also subsidising extra-curricular activities for some pupils. In addition, 70 per cent of schools are reporting providing food to pupils through food parcels, food banks, food vouchers and subsidised breakfasts.
More generally, the majority of senior leaders (over 84 per cent across all settings) report that cost-of-living pressures have increased both the numbers of pupils requiring additional support [i] and the level of need, particularly in the most disadvantaged schools.
According to senior leaders, the crisis is also exacerbating well-being and mental health needs among pupils. Over 25 per cent of pupils in mainstream schools needed extra support for mental health and well-being this year, a significant increase from 2022. This is even higher in special schools at over 40 per cent.
Teachers feel unable to access the support they need from external agencies such as Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS, formerly known as CAMHS) and schools are having to step in to fill gaps in support.
In the study, conducted in collaboration with ASK Research and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, NFER recently asked more than 2,500 senior leaders and teachers in mainstream schools, and more than 100 in special schools, a series of questions to understand the impacts of cost-of-living pressures on schools in England [ii].
Findings show special schools and schools with greater numbers of disadvantaged pupils (as identified by eligibility for free school meals) are providing the most overall support to pupils and families in response to the cost-of-living pressures.
However, it is not just children eligible for pupil premium who are receiving support. In over three-fifths of mainstream schools (68 per cent of primary and 63 per cent of secondary schools), leaders report that 50 per cent or more of the pupils receiving additional support were pupils not eligible for pupil premium. This was true in around 42 per cent of special schools.
NFER Research Director and report co-author, Jenna Julius, said:
“The cost-of-living crisis is having a profound impact on pupils and families. Schools are providing unprecedented levels of urgent support. Pupils whose most basic needs are not being met – whether it is going to school hungry, or being unable to afford uniform or transport costs – are less likely to attend school and successfully engage with learning.
“Without urgent action now there is a risk that the crisis will have far reaching and long-lasting impacts on pupils.”
Nuffield Foundation Programme Head, Ruth Maisey, said:
“The difficulty schools have in accessing support from external agencies is a longstanding issue that must be addressed. Teachers are experts in education and should be spending their time educating children rather than stepping into the breach as the front line of children’s services.”
Further findings from the report include:
- School leaders report increases in the cost-of-living have led to an increase in safeguarding concerns, behaviour incidents and absenteeism, particularly in secondary and more disadvantaged schools. For example, most senior leaders (over 80 per cent in all settings) agree or strongly agree that increases in the cost-of-living have increased safeguarding concerns and/or incidents in their school.
- Less than one-fifth of mainstream teachers (17 per cent of primary and 15 per cent of secondary) and just under one-quarter (24 per cent) of special school teachers feel supported by CYPMHS. Around half of mainstream teachers (50 per cent in primary and 54 per cent in secondary) and 39 per cent of special school teachers are less satisfied with this support compared to last year.
The report also makes the following recommendations:
- The Government should extend the current eligibility for free school meals. At the absolute minimum, this should involve uprating the income threshold for eligibility to reflect inflationary pressures since 2018/19.
- In the short term, the Government needs to provide greater financial support to address pupils’ pressing well-being and welfare needs, alongside meeting the additional direct costs such as energy, that are associated with the increased cost-of- living.
- In the short-term, families should be provided with additional support, which might include revisiting current levels of welfare support for families and/or additional cost of living payments.
- In the medium term, ensuring increased capacity and responsiveness of CYPMHS and other services around families is needed to ensure that pupils can access the appropriate support and specialist services in a timely manner, rather than schools having to step in to fill those gaps in support.
This paper looks at the impact of the cost-of-living on pupils and families. It is the first in a series of three cost-of-living reports being published in September. The second will focus on the impact on school provision and will be published on September 14. The third will be published on September 21 and looks at school workforce issues resulting from cost-of-living pressures.
Notes to editor
[i] Additional support was defined as anything over and above the usual provision pupils might receive in relation to pupil premium and/or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) support.
[ii] NFER collected data via an online survey sent to all state-funded mainstream primary and secondary schools and all special schools in England in April and May 2023. We received responses from 1354 senior leaders and 1317 teachers in mainstream schools as well as 87 senior leaders and 41 teachers in special schools. Mainstream surveys are weighted to be nationally representative of schools in England. Special school surveys are not weighted due to the relatively small response rate achieved.