Nine out of ten schools are providing uniforms to pupils

Over 87 per cent of schools in England are 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 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.

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.”
The report recommends that the government extends the current eligibility for free school meals in mainstream schools, and provides 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. The report says that 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.