HUNGRY school children are stealing sandwiches from a supermarket as the city’s schools battle to stem the rising tide of poverty caused by the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.
Neil Morris, headteacher at Christopher Whitehead Language College and Sixth Form, made the heart-breaking comment in a desperate plea for help to members of Worcester City Council’s Health and Wellbeing committee on Monday (January 30).
Speaking during a discussion on the committee’s ongoing investigations into tackle child poverty across Worcester, Mr Morris laid bare the stark reality facing the city’s schools and hard-working staff who were ‘constantly raising money’.
The long-serving headteacher revealed the demand for free school meals had soared six per cent since 2019 with 20 per cent of his 1,500 pupils now accessing the service.
Mr Morris revealed attendance was a ‘huge problem’ with overall attendance falling to 89 per cent post pandemic, down from 96 per cent before. Some 25 children at the St John’s school have not returned at all, according to the headteacher.
He labelled the system ‘completely broken’ and said the school was spending £256,000 on three counsellors for staff and students and three attendance officers for themselves.
“We are spending a huge amount, and we are in debt on food. We’ve got children stealing food from a supermarket. Not stealing water pistols, in a way I wish they were, they are stealing sandwiches,” Mr Morris said.
“We feel like King Canute with our finger in the dam. We spend money on staff which 10 years ago I didn’t spend it on.
“We have children who are trying to commit suicide and we are dealing with it on an everyday basis.” he added.
Kate Wilcock, headteacher at Pitmaston Primary School, told the committee of the experience of a Worcester headteacher who has spent £4,000 on uniform since September – three times as much as she ever spent at this time of year,
“We have teaching assistants leaving because they can earn more money stacking shelves in a term-time job,” she said
“We are losing amazing professionals from our schools, that has come from a number of headteachers, they don’t want to leave, they want to work in schools but they have their own cost-of-living crisis.
“It’s a huge picture for us to be dealing with at the moment, it’s quite overwhelming.”
Committee members spoke in unison about the need to help and a number spoke of a need to dig into the evidence offered by both headteachers.
“It’s very disappointing that issues we were dealing with many years ago are still issues today,” said committee chairman Coun Stephen Hodgson.