Nearly one-in-five less advantaged parents say a lack of food made home-learning more difficult for children in the first lockdown, a survey found.
Parents of children from families of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report that aspects of their home environment – such as a lack of technology, space and adequate internet – made it harder for pupils to complete schoolwork from home, according to the University of Sussex study.
It came as pupils in schools and colleges in England – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February amid the new national lockdown.
Meanwhile anger is brewing over the Government’s free school meals programme – with devastated parents and campaigners sharing pictures of carrot stubs, halved peppers and diced onions to emphasise the paucity of what they had been given.
Child poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford tweeted “just not good enough” as the pictures came to light, while others questioned how Chartwells, who were awarded the contract to distribute food, were allowed to get away with it.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has this morning tweeted: “The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace.
“Where is the money going? This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.”
Researchers warn that educational inequalities are likely to increase due to school closures as the study suggests that a switch to home learning can disproportionately disrupt the education of the most disadvantaged pupils.
The survey, of 3,409 parents in the UK, suggests that secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals (39 per cent) were more likely to report that a lack of technology – such as laptops and computers – made learning from home more difficult, compared to 19 per cent of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.
The survey, which ran from May until July, also found that 19 per cent of parents of primary school pupils from households that were struggling for income said a lack of food made completing school work from home more difficult, compared to just 3 per cent of families with comfortable levels of income.
Lead researcher Dr Matthew Easterbrook, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, said: “This suggests that for some children, when the most basic of needs are not being met, their education can suffer.
“These results show that school closures disproportionately disrupt the education of those who are most economically disadvantaged, suggesting that educational inequalities are likely to rise because of the pandemic.”
He added: “The results show that parents of pupils from disadvantaged families – those who are eligible for free school meals, who have lower levels of education, or who are financially struggling – are much more likely to report that learning from home is challenging.”