Millions of families across the UK are struggling with the cost of school and thousands of children are being bullied and embarrassed as a result.
A new child-led report by the Children's Commission on Poverty - At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life - supported by The Children's Society, exposes the true cost of school. It reveals that nearly two-thirds of children living in the country's poorest families say they are embarrassed as a result of not being able to afford key aspects of school. More than 25% said this has led them to being bullied.
Education is critical for helping children escape poverty. But alarmingly, the young commissioners found that state education is far from free and is excluding many of the country's poorest children.
The panel of 16 10 to 19-year-olds found that the cost of school basics - including uniforms, meals, text books and access to computers - is not only affecting family finances, but also harming the poorest children's opportunities and wellbeing.
Families are spending an average of £800 each year per child on school costs. That's a staggering £6.5billion across the UK.
Despite government guidance that the cost of school uniforms should be kept down, the Children's Commission on Poverty found that families are spending £600million a year on them. Children told how some of their classmates didn't have blazers or coats in winter simply because their parents couldn't afford them.
Families are also struggling with costs caused by the increased requirement for children to use computers. One boy said he was marked down because he had to write out his homework rather than do it on the computer because he didn't have one. Others have told of being given detention.
They are not alone. A third of children living in the poorest families said they had fallen behind at school because their family couldn't afford a computer or internet access.
The young commissioners are calling on the government to make sure that all children living in poverty get a free school meal and that uniforms are made affordable. They also want materials and activities, including text books and trips, to be affordable to all students.
Staff, including teachers, should also be properly trained about the reality of poverty and how it affects children in their schools.
No child should be stopped from getting a fair and equal education, or made to suffer because they are living in poverty.
Children are supposed to be benefiting equally from a free education. Yet the reality is that many children are being penalised and denied their right to an equal education because their parents cannot afford the basics. This is just not right. We look forward to seeing changes outlined in today's report put into action so that the cost of school is the same for every child in this country.Suggest a correction