Concerning reason school has decided to open on Christmas Day

A state secondary is opening its doors to make sure hard-up kids do not miss out on Christmas dinner.

Around 60 youngsters and a similar number of parents and pensioners will get turkey and all the trimmings at Park Community School.

The school serves a deprived area on the outskirts of Portsmouth called Leigh Park, which was once the largest council estate in Europe, and has “significant levels of need.”

The lunch is funded by donations from well-wishers and entirely staffed by volunteers, including teachers.

Local businesses have paid for presents for youngsters as well as entertainments, such a visit by Santa and a bouncy castle.

Head Christopher Anders said: “Christmas brings pressures for families on low incomes. On Christmas Day at least we will know they are well fed.

"Without it some in our community could miss out.

“For some it is the only proper traditional dinner they will be getting. The focus is on doing the best for our children and trying to do all we can for the community.

“For a number of our children the food they eat at school is really important to them, they may not eat something healthy at other points of the day.”

The school puts a big emphasis on food and its award-winning initiative to ensure no child goes hungry during the holidays has been heralded a “lifeline” by parents.

The Munch project aims to tackle food poverty and provides nutritious meals for needy children and their parents during holidays.

It even provided a pop-up food bank for needy families in the run up to Christmas as well as providing free breakfasts for pupils and after-school ‘supper clubs.’

And it had a foodbank in the run-up to Christmas.

The school is rated “good” by watchdog Ofsted and inspectors last year noted “pupils are rightly proud of their school and their achievements.”

Top charities praised the efforts but the National Education Union said they highlight “a frightening level of deep-rooted poverty”.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Times are tough for families struggling to make ends meet and for some there will be a real shortage of Christmas cheer.

“It’s great that some schools are opening their doors to put on a festive celebration for the community and that children can enjoy themselves in a familiar environment – three cheers for them!

“However, we know that things have got really bad when it falls to schools, who themselves are facing cuts, to patch up the holes in the safety net.

“All children and their families should have an adequate income to be able to celebrate Christmas at home – it used to be possible to put away some cash every week for festivities, but incomes are now so low families can barely make ends meet week by week.

“If austerity is really over, there wouldn’t be the increasing child poverty and hardship we are witnessing as 2018 draws to a close.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it highlighted a bigger problem of “a frightening level of deep-rooted poverty around the whole country.”

Mr Courtney added:”For one of the richest countries in the world to have one 1 in 5 of its citizens working yet still living in poverty, for food banks to be commonplace, for schools to be stepping in and providing food parcels, clothes, shoes, sanitary products and dealing with many more day to issues that arise from families simply having no money, is shocking and unacceptable.

“These problems have real effects on children in our schools, on their learning, concentration and behaviour.

"Government needs to address this problem which will only get worse when Universal Credit is rolled out.”

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: “No child should have to go without at this time of year, and while it is wonderful to see a school stepping up to support their pupils and community, it is a stark reminder of the state of our country under the Conservatives.

“Years of falling wages while the Tories have slashed support for those who most need it have created an unacceptable situation in which millions of children are growing up in poverty, and could miss out on the things we all take for granted at Christmas.

“The next Labour government will take meaningful action to ensure that every child gets the best start in life, and to ensure that no family has to go without, in a country for the many, not the few.”

But Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:“We want every child to have the best start in life.

"Since 2010 there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty and employment is at a record high.

“On top of that, only last week we launched a £9million fund so thousands more disadvantaged children will benefit from free meals and activities during the school holidays.”

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