Fulham School Head Gives Warning About Rising Poverty

Sally Brooks says she is seeing more pupils turning up hungry

Sally Brooks, executive principal at Fulham Cross Academy
Sally Brooks, executive principal at Fulham Cross Academy

A Fulham school has warned kids are starving and surviving on as little as one slice of bread a day.

Students are coming to school on empty stomachs as parents are forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children, a high school boss says.

Sally Brooks, executive principal at Fulham Cross Academy, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she has seen a rise in the number of families using food banks as students have struggled to stay awake in lessons because their families cannot afford food.

She said there were around 25 families using the school’s food bank in 2020 and by Christmas 2021 there were 45. She added: “The high level of deprivation has been impacted by Brexit and the pandemic. Lots of families have found themselves without work or have had jobs kind of curtailed and the money going into the household hasn’t been enough.”

Ms Brooks said some students come into school so hungry they cannot concentrate on lessons. She said a 15-year-old boy had been coming to school an hour late for over a week and was struggling to stay awake before teachers found out he was not eating at home.

She added,“There just wasn’t any food at home, Mum had had to use the money to make sure that the house had electricity. For younger siblings they prioritised feeding them. They were basically surviving on a slice of bread and something they could put on it.

“He was not able to get up in the morning. We have now been able get him into the breakfast club. We have had a father come in asking for sanitary products for teenage girls and that takes a lot of guts to do.”

Fulham Cross Academy
Fulham Cross Academy

Every student at Fulham Cross Academy can have a free school lunch, regardless of their family’s income, thanks to a scheme launched in January 2020 with Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Ms Brooks said the free meals help students form a proper diet, which is often more expensive than buying cheap, unhealthy snacks.

She said the service has been a great success and she was quite surprised by how many older students use it. She added: “The take-up of it doubled in our school, interestingly amongst sixth formers. We are seeing high concentration levels in the afternoon and increased participation in after school activities.

“We see the school as an extension of the family. I think every child in London should have access to a free school meal so we know our children are nourished enough to learn.”

Ms Brooks said child hunger is a UK-wide problem and she fears more families will struggle to feed themselves due to the rising cost of living.

She added: “I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen in the next six months, particularly around rising energy costs and rising food bills. That could be like a silent pandemic if we aren’t really conscious of it and taking proactive steps to prevent that happening.

“For some, the meal that they get in school at lunch time is the only meal that they have. It obviously impacts on ability to learn. If you’re not eating it’s really hard to sustain concentration in education. We have always had a group of children who we notice are not eating enough.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council became the first authority in England and Wales to roll-out free lunches at secondary schools. Two schools currently benefit from the four-year scheme – Fulham Cross Academy and Woodlane High School. Every primary school pupil in the borough is also offered a free breakfast.

Hannah Neary - Local Democracy Reporter

March 4, 2022