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University experts welcome moves to counter child hunger

Bangor University education experts have welcomed initiatives such as Flintshire County Council’s Holiday Hunger Programme, which seek to address poverty related hunger out of school term times.

Recent research by Bangor University on the effects of poverty on children’s academic achievement in rural schools in Wales has revealed that hunger was affecting children’s concentration levels at primary schools in particular and that this lessened to a degree at secondary schools.

Pupils from key stages 2 and 4 from across all schools sampled, for the research:  (Re-Thinking Educational Attainment and Poverty – in rural Wales, REAP), indicated that they often miss two meals a week, either at home or at school.

Hunger, defined as the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty of being able to do so, was reported across primary and secondary schools sampled as an issue of concern, indicating that children go without the needed three meals a day every day.

Professor J. Carl Hughes Director of the Collaborative Institute for Education Research, Evidence and Impact (CIEREI), and Head of School, School of Education & Human Development at Bangor University said:

“Although schools have a vital role to play in tackling poverty and its effect on children’s education and well-being, it is clear that the school is only one part of the solution when it comes to tackling underachievement and inequality. That’s why we welcome initiatives such as Flintshire’s Holiday Hunger Programme, providing free meals to children during the summer holidays.

“The schools can teach, track progress and engage with families, but the community needs to share resources and wisdom and other organisations should share good practice. It is about partnership working and building communities that collectively takes responsibility for underachievement, supported by better synergies of anti-poverty strategies across LAs, Schools and NGOs,” he added.

Gwilym Siôn ap Gruffudd, who lead the team of researchers from the School of Education and Human Development said:

”Our comprehensive research asked children and young people how hunger affected their concentration and academic achievement at schools.  

As a result of this work, with two school improvement services providers, the Welsh Government recently increased the amount of money available to schools in Wales to enable them to address some of the effects of poverty in their communities. The fund, the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) is allocated according to the number of pupils receiving free school meals at each school and is a vital source of extra funding for schools.

Another worrying factor we found is that free school meals are being under-claimed in rural communities in Wales.  This could arise from a reluctance or possibly a cultural reticence to apply for free school meals in these communities. We need to remove stigma for the pupils within the schools that affect them and change the culture around free school meals and offer of community assistance, he added.”

Publication date: 13 August 2018