Leeds schools ‘having to provide laundry and sanitary products’ to pupils, meeting hears

The meeting took place at Civic Hall this week
The meeting took place at Civic Hall this week

Teachers in Leeds are having to provide sanitary products, tissues and even laundry services for disadvantaged pupils in the city, a meeting heard this week.

The comments were made at a Leeds City Council meeting on Wednesday during a debate on educational attainment in the city.

In a motion, known as a white paper, that went before members, Conservative councillor Dan Cohen claimed improvements in reading and writing at key stage two (10 to 11 year-olds), had been “painfully slow”, and called for a report into how school attainment can be “urgently improved”.

Coun Cohen (Con) told the meeting: “We have no criticism of schools, teachers and young people.

“Our concern is that as a city we are not doing enough strategically for our young people.

“We believe that officers need to be asked within children and families to bring a report forward setting out what this administration is going to do to improve the education for our young people.

Coun Helen Hayden: "Because child poverty is increasing, schools are having to wash uniforms and feed the children."

Coun Helen Hayden: "Because child poverty is increasing, schools are having to wash uniforms and feed the children."

“The data of our city’s educational attainment is there for all to see. It is very sobering.

“As a city we remain behind national average standards – our pace in improvement is not fast enough.

“This child-friendly city, this ‘best place for children to grow up’ is not even achieving the national average at early years and Key Stage Two.”

He admitted results were better in secondary schools, before adding: “Just imagine what we could do if our key stage two results were that much better.

“There is a lack of direction right from the top.

“As a city, Leeds needs to exceed the national average. Now is the time for the council as a whole to require that we do it for the good of our young people.”

Lib Dem group leader Stewart Golton said: “Our eyes are off the ball when it comes to education.

“We cannot afford to be complacent about our education services, especially when the people who are being let down by our education system are the poorest.”

Earlier in the week, Leeds City Council’s executive member for education Coun Jonathan Pryor called Coun Cohen’s comments “disparaging” and “belittling”.

In Wednesday’s meeting he argued that the motion be amended almost entirely to instead congratulate Leeds schools and pupils for their hard work. It also called on the government to reinstate education maintenance allowance and increase funding for schools, particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs.

Supporting his amendment, Coun Pryor told the meeting: “I was disappointed to read this white paper, as I honestly thought they thought it would be inappropriate to criticise the achievements of Leeds pupils in the first council meeting since the exam results were published.

“In 2018, 41.9 per cent of Leeds pupils achieved a grade five in English and maths, putting us above the average for Yorkshire and Humber.

“Leeds was ranked 37 out of 151 local authorities. There is a clear evidence that Leeds is improving at a far faster rate than nationally.

“We know what there is more to do, but we are improving. There is no complacency, and we realise we have further to go.”

He added that the loss of educational maintenance allowance has led to a widening gap in attainment between advantaged and disadvantage post-16 pupils.

Coun Hannah Bithell (Lab), a teacher, supported Coun Pryor’s amendments, adding: “One of my colleagues teaches 22 classes a week. As a teacher you get two and a half hours a week to prep lessons and mark. Clearly this maths doesn’t work.

“On a day-by-day basis, schools are having to battle a lack of funding which leads to a lack of resources for our children.”

She added teachers in Leeds are now having to spend their own money to provide sanitary products, pens and tissues for pupils, while some schools are having to do laundry for pupils.

She said: “This comes out of my wage and hundreds of other teachers’ wages.

“We are having to provide washing facilities at schools because parents are unable to wash their children’s clothes at home.

“This government is making being a teacher almost impossible.

“The government’s report card for education would not read ‘could do better’, but rather ‘inadequate’. Despite these challenges, for Leeds to still be getting better faster than other cities, I would personally like to high-five all the teachers in Leeds.”

Coun Helen Hayden (Lab), a former teacher, added: “I am looking at my friends and relations who are working in teaching, leaving. Teachers I mentored and supported are leaving and going to other countries because the conditions are just so awful.

“You turn up for nine hours a day and you do your best for those kids. Dealing with those outside influences, such is the poverty our families face today, it is almost impossible to teach those children and to help them have an excellent learning experience.

“As Coun Bithell mentioned, because child poverty is increasing, schools are having to wash uniforms and feed the children.

“After you have done all that you have to get them ready – you have to prepare them for their SATs and their GCSEs.

“It’s a wonder that some children ever come to school on a morning, put a pen in their hand and write anything on a sheet.

“It’s not the teachers and the school and it’s not anything from above, we are fighting child poverty. This is a direct result of government policy.”

Coun Cohen responded: “We are absolutely not talking about the work that teachers are doing in schools, however much you may wish to be talking about that. This white paper is focussed with laser-like precision on a Leeds issue within the control of this administration.

“Coun Pryor was desperate to shift the conversation onto the usual trick of blaming the government and blaming anybody but themselves. Our young people deserve better than that.

“It seems very strange to me that, notwithstanding all of the challenges, other cities do it so much better. Other major cities with all the challenges you have outlined do so much better than us.

“It’s because they have a strategy from the top. The administration ensure they are doing their job better.

“You are so busy blaming the government. You’re so busy trying to deflect these conversations that, rather than grab the bull by the horns and come up with a plan and a strategy to ensure Leeds does do better than average, you muddy the water.

“The responsibility isn’t the school’s, it’s not our young people, it’s not teachers. The responsibility is this administration. It must try harder.”

The council voted in favour of Coun Pryor’s amendment.