More children are likely to arrive at school this term with unclean clothes and unbrushed teeth, teachers have suggested.
Nearly three in four (72%) school staff believe there has been an increase in “hygiene poverty” issues in their school in the last year, according to a poll.
The survey, of 500 school staff in the UK who had said they were aware of pupils experiencing hygiene poverty, suggests that 71% expect the levels of hygiene poverty to have increased by the start of the school year this month.
Dirty uniforms and PE kits, unwashed hair and unclean teeth were the most cited indicators of hygiene poverty by the staff questioned in June.
The poll, carried out for charity The Hygiene Bank and cleaning brand smol, defines hygiene poverty as those who are “caught between being able to heat their home, pay their bills, buy food or keep clean”.
Some of the school staff reported personally washing uniforms and PE kits for children at home, and handing out laundry detergent for families in need.
The survey, which was conducted by market research platform Attest, suggests that 72% of school staff said they had seen pupils affected by hygiene poverty experience low self-esteem.
Meanwhile, 53% of school staff said these pupils were isolated or “left out” by other pupils in class, and 50% said they had seen a negative impact on mental health for those experiencing hygiene poverty.
More than a quarter (26%) of school staff said they had seen absenteeism as a result of hygiene poverty.
One respondent said: “Students are often left with no desk partner in class. Makes it awkward for staff members to deal with the situation. Students are often faced with working alone. Other students make nasty comments in front of the class to single them out.”
Another respondent said they had “a feeling of powerlessness” that they could not do more.
Sarah Smith, executive headteacher of St Cuthbert’s Catholic Academy, a primary school in Blackpool, said: “We have seen an increase in students coming to school with unwashed uniforms and we know that this has an effect on their mental health and overall wellbeing, which in turn will have a negative impact on their education.”
Brand smol, in collaboration with The Hygiene Bank, is hoping to expand its Suds in Schools initiative, which provides mini laundrettes to schools, so more families in need are provided with clean clothes.
Suds in Schools wants to raise £25,000 to establish an additional 25 laundrettes in UK schools.
Lucy Wishart, of smol, said: “With hygiene poverty increasing, it’s more important than ever for us to support more schools.”
She added: “We believe that everyone should have access to clean clothes, in order to live their life to the fullest and our research shows just how much this can impact young people at a crucial stage in their academic and social lives.”
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Hygiene poverty is linked to very high levels of deprivation as families struggle with the cost of things like washing machines, energy bills and clothes.
“Many schools routinely help out by discreetly washing clothes and providing items of uniform.
“This has long been the case but has become more of an issue following the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis as more families struggle financially.
“The level of child poverty in the UK is utterly unacceptable and the Government must do more to tackle the problem.”