Pupils, in deprived areas, are “filling their pockets” with food from school canteens, in desperation, due to poverty.
These troubling findings have been gathered from a survey of 900 heads, teachers and school support staff of the National Education Union (NEU).
Nearly nine out of ten (87%) say that poverty is having a significant impact on the learning of their pupils and 60% believe that the situation has worsened since 2015.
Worryingly, of these a third (33%) think it has worsened significantly.
Head teachers described differences in the appearance of some pupils.
One head commented: “My children have grey skin, poor teeth, poor hair; they are thinner.”
Lynn, a head teacher from a former industrial town in Cumbria, who did not want to give her full name said: “Children are filling their pockets with food. In some establishments that would be called stealing. We call it survival.”
Another head teacher from Nottinghamshire, Louise Regan, said: “When you take children out to an event, maybe a sporting event, you see children of the same age from schools in an affluent area.
“It’s the grey skin, the pallor. It’s the pallor you really notice.”
She went on: “Monday morning is the worst.
“There are a number of families that we target that we know are going to be coming into school hungry.
“By the time it’s 9.30am they are tired.”
Howard Payne, a head at an inner city school in Portsmouth, said there had been a four-fold increase in the number of children with child protection issues.
“Every one of these issues has had something to do with the poverty that they live in,” he said.
“It’s neglect. It’s because they and their families don’t have enough money to provide food, heating or even bedding.”
Mr Payne said: “Three weeks ago, many schools in our area closed because of the snow.
“I kept ours open because I was really worried about the children – that they wouldn’t have a hot meal to eat that day.”
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, which co-sponsored the NEU survey, said: “Teachers see the heart-breaking reality of rising child poverty every day in their classrooms and dinner halls.
“We must listen to what they are telling us. With nine children in every classroom of 30 now falling below the official poverty line, it is time to ensure all families have enough to live on, and to rebuild the safety net for struggling parents.
“A vital first step is to lift the freeze on children’s benefits so that they keep up with the rising cost of living.”