DEPRIVED city children were thrown a lifeline by a headteacher who admitted he kept his school open during a snowstorm to guarantee poor pupils would ‘get a hot meal’.
Howard Payne, headteacher at Medina Primary School, in Wymering, said the area was in crisis with a rising number of pupils living in poverty.
Speaking at the National Education Union summit in Brighton, Mr Payne said the number of malnourished pupils attending his school had risen ‘dramatically.’
Mr Payne said: ‘Over the past 18 months the number of child protection issues I have seen has increased fourfold – and I’m in a small school. Every single one of those issues has been related to poverty, debt, not eating enough, and that has increased dramatically.’
During last month’s snowstorms, Mr Payne said he kept his school open when other schools in the area were closed. ‘I kept ours open because I was really worried about the number of children who wouldn’t get a hot meal that day,’ he added.
Teachers from across the UK attended the conference and raised their fears about the escalating crisis within the education systems.
Primary school leaders described how children are turning up at the school gates showing visible signs of poverty, such as grey skin, poor teeth, hair and nails.
In some cases pupils have failed to arrive for class because they do not have shoes, while others have been spotted in the uniforms at weekends because they have nothing else to wear.
One headteacher said education issues such as league table positions are fast becoming secondary to dealing with the impact of financial hardship among pupils.
The government said it is taking measures to close the attainment gap and to support disadvantaged pupils.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, whose constituency contains Medina Primary, said: ‘Over the last few years we have seen enormous numbers of children lifted out of poverty.
‘The major factor of that has been their families finding work.’ But she added: ‘There is still more to do.’
In 2015/16, there were four million children in the UK living in poverty, according to the Child Poverty Action Group – equivalent to nine in every classroom of 30 pupils.
Ms Mordaunt vowed the government would cut energy prices for poor families, create more jobs and shrink living costs.
Last month prime minster Theresa May came under fire from Portsmouth South Labour MP Stephen Morgan who said austerity cuts left schools struggling to cope.