Express & Star

Walsall teachers pay to feed youngsters who 'regularly cry' at school gates out of hunger

Big-hearted school staff are dipping into their own pockets to ensure poverty-stricken Walsall children are fed.

Walsall teachers are doing their bit to ensure schoolchildren are fed

A headteacher of a school in a ‘deprived’ part of Walsall said pupils regularly walked through the gates in tears due to hunger, having only had as little as tea and biscuits or a Pot Noodle for their meal the night before.

The school, like many others in the borough, will support them by providing a free breakfast for every child, putting together food packages for families and distributing vouchers for food banks.

But teachers and staff have still been compelled to fork out when they felt a youngster needed something extra.

The headteacher, who asked not to be named, said: “On a daily basis, we see children turning up who haven’t been fed, haven’t had breakfast and probably didn’t have anything sufficient the evening before so they won’t have a proper cooked meal.

“When we ask what did you have for tea last night, we get answers like ‘a cup of tea and biscuits’ or a ‘Pot Noodle’.

“Their only proper meal might have been what they had at midday in school.

“To help with that, we provide every child with breakfast no matter their background, so we know at least they’ve had one thing to start their day.

“We will support with food packages to parents. We will provide vouchers to go to the local food bank. We over-order our breakfast club so we have a store to put outside at the end of the month.

“The amount of parcels given out can change but we have around 20 families who are regular either to the food bank or for whom we are providing for and then on top of that, there are other families who dip in and out and ask if we can help.

“You see the children in the morning, they can’t concentrate, they are crying so it’s about making sure we meet their five basic needs and we do that from the moment they walk through the gates.”

The chair of governors at the same school added: “The staff know the families really well and know the children who are vulnerable.

“They can tell when a child comes in. Teachers have brought in extra food, doing it from their own pocket. It’s heartbreaking.”

The headteacher said: “The staff will relay things to us and will ask if it is OK to give them something and I say ‘Of course it is but you don’t have to pay – the school will cover the cost’.

“It is upsetting for them. Our staff realise how privileged they are but there is a reason why they work here and they want to do their best for the children.”

As well as food, the school provides uniforms for those who can’t afford it and won’t charge the poorest for after-school clubs or residential trips, to ensure they get the same opportunities as others.

But poverty brings a raft of other problems too, not least a rise in safeguarding concerns and the ‘toxic trio’ of domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse rear their ugly heads, meaning school staff are often dealing with issues before they get the core job of teaching.

The headteacher said: “Poverty can, unfortunately, be caused by addiction. Our first safeguarding check is when they come through that gate and we can check on their mental health.

“We feed them but they are still not great so we work out what we need to do. We are often working with children’s services.

“Poverty also means they can’t concentrate so their learning is impaired. That means they fall behind and takes a long time to catch up if they ever do. Their chances of employment become less and less.

"We try to put things in place and stop that cycle of deprivation so we come here and we go the extra mile on all aspects of the child’s life.”