Trainee Teachers’ Perceptions of Food Poverty During School-Based Placements

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Teachers may be conceptualised as agents of inclusion and social justice, emphasising the need to develop teachers’ capacity for working to remove structural and social barriers for some students’ learning and participation (Pantić and Florian, 2015). A relevant area of competence for promoting inclusive practice to be developed in teacher education is student teachers’ understanding of how broader social forces influence exclusion and disadvantage (Slee, 2010).

Evidence suggests that children are disproportionately over-represented in food poverty (DfC, 2019) - the inability to access or afford food - estimates and that the nature, extent and effects of child food insecurity are poorly understood. (Food) poverty in children may have implications for educational attendance, engagement and attainment (Food Foundation, 2019). Given teachers’ status as important and trusted role models, it is helpful to understand student teachers’ perceptions of food poverty, its implications in education and their perceived confidence in dealing with such issues.

This study examined student teacher (n=117) insights into and experiences of food poverty in schools across Northern Ireland via four surveys before, during and post-placement (2019) to ascertain changes in food poverty perceptions through their lived experience in schools.

Almost identical proportions of student teachers considered food poverty to be an issue in Northern Ireland at baseline (82.5%) and post-placement (81.9%). A statistically significant association existed between educational phase and perception that food poverty is a Northern Ireland issue with post-primary teachers more likely to believe in its NI-relevance ((X2 (2, n = 106) = 17.26, p ˂ 0.001, phi = 0.404)) than their primary school counterparts. Teachers were concerned about pupils’ diets in terms of adequacy and nutritional quality. During their first school placement, one in four (23.8%) had bought or supplied pupils with food/snacks (reducing to one in eight (12.4%) in their final placement).

More student teachers at post-placement stage than at baseline reported knowing what to do if a pupil presented as hungry at school (59.8% and 38.1% respectively). Interestingly, respondents were less confident in their capability post-placement than at baseline to support a pupil who told him/her that he/she was consistently hungry (17.2% and 24.8% respectively). In terms of strategies for supporting a hungry child, student teachers reported relying on escalating concerns to a more senior member of staff (Principal, Pastoral Care Coordinator/Child Protection Officer (43.6% post-placement; 30.8% at baseline) and giving the pupil food (23.1% post-placement; 37.7% at baseline).

It may be argued that teachers should not be expected to instinctively/intuitively know how to engage with children on food and health-related topics but should receive health co-ordinator training to empower them in this remit and supplement their championing of children’s informed food choices. These results suggest that students’ experience of social issues and food poverty increased throughout placement, and their confidence and competence in dealing with such issues decreased where food poverty was perceived to be chronic. This suggests a gap in how student teachers are prepared to deal with current social issues in school by the time they commence placement. This research will usefully inform education policymakers’ and teacher trainers’ skills curricula in this area.

Keywords: Food poverty, hungry, children, teachers, teacher training, social issues in schools.

Department for Communities. (2019) NI poverty bulletin 2017-18. Belfast: Department for Communities. Available from:

Food Foundation. (2019) Children’s future food inquiry. London: Food Foundation. Available from:

Pantić, N. and Florian, L. (2015) Developing teachers as agents of inclusion and social justice. In Special Issue: Teacher education policies and developments in Europe. Education Inquiry, 6(3).

Slee, R. (2010). Political economy, inclusive education, and teacher education. In C. Forlin (Ed.), Teacher education for inclusion: Changing paradigms and innovative approaches (pp. 13–22). New York, NY: Routledge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Jul 2019
EventAll-Island Food Poverty Network Academic Conference - Sean Casey Centre, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 24 Sept 201924 Sept 2019


ConferenceAll-Island Food Poverty Network Academic Conference

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  • Food poverty, hungry, children, teachers, teacher training, social issues in schools.


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