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Trusts spend six-figure sums to support ‘crisis’ families

The hidden costs of poverty are leaving academy trusts hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket, as schools bid to pull their poorest families out of “crisis”. 

The news comes amid calls for the chancellor Jeremy Hunt to hand out more education cash ahead of his spring Budget next week – with cost rises expected to outstrip funding growth. 

The government regularly claims that school funding is at “record highs”. But the investigation reveals just a slice of the additional costs schools now face over the cost-of-living-crisis and a wider collapse of support services.

Sir Dan Moynihan

Dixons Academies Trust said it spends £1.5 million a year “subsidising the fight against poverty”, amid concerns that some pupils would not be able to “get to school and be successful” without it.

Meanwhile, Harris Federation CEO Dan Moynihan estimated that £500,000 of his budget was being used to support his most disadvantaged pupils – some of whom live in temporary housing riddled with damp and cockroaches. 

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools “do not have the resources for this to be viable long term”.

“This is largely a result of the growing cost of living and the erosion of other support services, meaning schools are forced to step into the breach.”

Trusts cover meals and trips

Dixons, which runs 17 northern schools, covers “the cost of meals and school trips that families cannot afford” and supplies uniforms and food parcels to those in need. Its staff also support families with cost-of-living difficulties.

Chief executive Luke Sparkes said the £1.5 million annual bill – most of which comes out of its general annual grant (GAG) – leaves him with “less to spend on teachers”.

But he added that “some children won’t be able to get to school and be successful” without the expenditure.

Moynihan said an “unseen” part of his six-figure spend goes towards the time spent by SENCOs writing letters to housing departments and filling in benefit applications.

“We’ve got one family who have been put into a room, all five of them, where there are no washing facilities. There are a number with cockroaches and damp [as well].”

Some children are given food vouchers for breakfast clubs, while dinners are provided for those living in temporary accommodation without cooking facilities.

One of Harris’s 55 schools – where many homeless pupils have been moved two hours away – even opens its heated hall to parents who travelled in with their children to stop them “hanging about in Costa all day”.

Families “in crisis” also receive mental health and welfare support from a team of a counsellors. But it is “nowhere near [large] enough”.

The trust spends another £2 million on “alleviating poverty in various forms” from money it raises via sponsorships.

‘Once upon a time, schools taught kids’

The Consortium Trust, which runs 15 schools in East Anglia, uses about £100,000 of its GAG to support its poorest pupils.

It pays for three pastoral and family support workers (£51,015), subsidising trips (£28,000), uniforms (£3,000) and breakfast and after-school clubs (£18,500).

In London, North Star Community Trust chief Marino Charalambous uses about £200,000 of his annual budget for similar initiatives.

Half of it covers his safeguarding team which, among other things, works to prevent youngsters from getting “caught up in gangs” and child-protection issues.

The remainder pays for uniform subsidies, a hardship fund that provides £25 Tesco vouchers to homeless families and the salaries of its community outreach unit, which has grown “year on year” since its launch in 2016.

“It’s those sorts of things that could take two, three days for the local authority and social services to process, so we’re their first point of call,” Charalambous explained.

Barton urged the chancellor to address the issue in what could be his last Budget before the election “by investing in education and other public services, as well as tackling the staggeringly high level of child poverty”.

Moynihan added: “Once upon a time, schools taught kids. Today, we provide a wide range of services that we’re not properly funded for. But unless we provide them, it’s crisis for these families.”

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