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London teachers ‘help to fill gaps in basic needs of families’

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 6/16/2022 Anna Davies
Educational health app © PA Wire Educational health app

Teachers in London schools are increasingly helping families deal with social problems and are providing meals, laundry services and immigration advice, a new report suggests.

As well as centres of learning, schools have become social hubs with teachers filling in the gaps left by other bits of the state, according to the Times Education Commission.

Nicola Noble, head of Surrey Square primary school in Elephant and Castle, said she sends evening meals home to some families and regularly gives her own children’s clothes to pupils.

There is a washing machine and tumble dyer for parents who have nowhere to do laundry and during lockdown she helped one mother to move house.

During the pandemic, the school sent out about 200 food packages a week.

Mrs Noble, who gave evidence to the year-long commission, said there are two aspects to her work — acting as a “sticking plaster” for the basic needs of families and campaigning for longer-term change.

She said: “If children don’t have food, or they don’t have bedding, we need to provide them because if they don’t have those things they’re never going to be able to access the education that we would want them to.

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“But more recently we’ve started our causes and campaigns work, trying to remove the issues for good.”

The school negotiates with the council to get better homes for pupils and advises families on immigration applications.

It has also built “community activism” into its curriculum.

The report cites one campaign about pests in social housing which resulted in two families moving into better accommodation.

But Mrs Noble said: “We can’t just keep putting the sticking plaster on.”

The Ark Academy chain, which runs 27 schools in London, is looking to include an introduction to children’s social care in its initial teacher training to give staff a better understanding of some pupils’ lives, the report said.

Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, which runs 14 academies in London, said schools must now understand the context in which pupils are growing up and care for the “whole child”.

Mr Chalke told the commission: “If families don’t flourish, kids can’t flourish.”

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