Hungry, unwashed children fill our schools – how has it come to this?

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According to a survey from the headteachers’ union, the Association of School and College Leaders, schools have become “an unofficial fourth emergency service” for the families worst affected by austerity across England and Wales.

A majority of the 400 school leaders surveyed said schools were increasingly forced to help pupils, despite less help from councils, and have had to cut budgets. Schools are helping with food parcels, equipment, shoes and hygiene – nine out of 10 give out clothes, while nearly half do laundry for them. Some are running impromptu food banks or sourcing beds.

How could it not be a source of national shame that there are food banks in any schools in England and Wales? When did it become normal for schools to wash pupils’ clothes? As for anyone wishing to start ranting about parents sitting, smoking, with cans of lager, in front of wide-screen televisions – spare me. Wasn’t it precisely these Tory cartoons of the unemployed and low-income workers that gave austerity measures credibility in the first place? That fake standoff between “striver” and “skiver” (remember that?) pitted people against each other, when, in truth, they had all too much in common.

While it’s just one survey, it’s far from a one-off – schools keep trying to speak up about how much they’re helping pupils. It’s happening on too large a scale for it to be dismissed as straightforward parental failure. Pupils have come to this because they reflect the reduced circumstances of their families – they are merely the school-aged manifestation of peak-impact austerity. Swaths of the population have been crushed to the point where basics (food, clothes, heating, hot water) have become unaffordable. Underresourced schools have been left to cope with the fallout and teachers are only able to teach pupils after they’ve dealt with their basic needs.

This fundamentally undermines what schools are supposed to be – educational establishments. While there has always been an element of social work to teaching, it shouldn’t be so dominant. What should be a place about teaching and learning becomes a barely disguised holding pen, with a bit of ABC thrown in. It wouldn’t just be a relief if these children manage to reach their full potential – it would be a miracle.

While schools go above and beyond for their pupils, why does the buck stop there? Long-term austerity seems to have numbed people into accepting relentless struggle as normality, almost as though it’s all a terrible, inexplicable enchantment in a warped austerity-themed fairytale.

In reality, there’s a context (actual policies, brazen cuts) explaining how it all happened and telling us exactly who is responsible. So, yes, it’s very sad to hear about these children who arrive at school needing food and clothes before they can even think about algebra. It’s also the government’s responsibility to own its mess and do something about it.

The gossip mill continues to churn about the actress Kate Beckinsale, 45, dating the 25-year-old comedian Pete Davidson. And when I say “gossip mill”, I mean, saddos like me, who tragically feel the compulsion to gawp at happy couples, forensically examining photos of them, say, smooching at hockey games, in order to pass ill-informed judgment on their relationship. So, let’s do it.

Considering the sexist “cradle-snatching” fuss, you’d have thought that Davidson was in his teens, not a high-achieving grown man. Although some of us might not want to deal with the “extra admin” that seems to go with a large age difference (“They used to be called Marathon bars, goddammit!”), if others are up for it, then more power to them. While Davidson is punching above his weight, he’d probably admit to “punching” just as hard with his erstwhile fiancee, Ariana Grande, similar in age. Besides, he has already sagely pointed out that the older-male/younger-female celebrity dynamic is practically Hollywood’s 11th commandment.

With age-gap couples such as Beckinsale and Davidson, the focus is always on it being a “terrible shame” that they aren’t similar ages, at the same stage in life. However, who’s to say that they would have got on as well if they had been at the same life-stage? They could have irritated, even disliked, each other. Their differences might have mattered more – there could have been more niggles and clashes – over values, perspectives, anything. It’s quite possible that their age gap is making them not sweat the dreaded “small stuff” and have more fun.

Best of luck to Beckinsale and Davidson, an odd couple who could be living proof that sometimes age differences aren’t the problem, they’re the things that make it work.

Are women too wary of corporate tokenism? The Investment Association, a £7.7tn investor group, has joined the Hampton-Alexander review, a diversity study, to send letters to 66 FTSE 350 firms that have only one female board member. Good. “One and done” syndrome is a joke, when the government target is around 33%.

However, another problem lies with the wider negative perception of female quotas and targets, when even qualified, credible female candidates find themselves dismissed as not getting there entirely on merit. This gives quotas an undeserved bad name, even among women, who worry that their achievements could be dismissed as token. All completely understandable, but still – phooey!

Women worrying about tokenism need to remember that, over the years, structural sexism has given far more men far more opportunities to pursue and exploit unfair advantage. When there’s a rare attempt to redress the balance, the very last thing women should feel is guilty.

I dream of a scenario where a female board member gets some envious threatened male idiots grumbling about tokenism and she just smiles delightedly and says: “I know, great, isn’t it?”

Odds are, she’d still be some way from being as shameless as they’d be, given half the chance.

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