Half of headteachers claim to have done laundry for pupils, as they say their families have “no aspirations and no role models”.
Nine in 10 state-funded secondaries have provided clothing for pupils suffering high levels of disadvantage, according to a survey of school leaders.
The poll, conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), found that 47 per cent of headteachers also said they washed clothes for pupils.
ASCL questioned 407 headteachers, representing one in ten state-funded secondary schools across England and Wales, ahead of its annual conference which starts on Friday.
One headteacher told the poll: “This is the biggest block to pupil progress. We now have children who have parents who are third generation unemployed with little or no aspirations and no role model or sense of a way out. It is a crisis.”
Another added: “In 24 years of education I have not seen the extent of poverty like this, children are coming to school hungry, dirty and without the basics to set them up for life. The gap between those that have and those that do not is rising and is stark.”
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: “A decade of austerity has wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the nation and schools have been left to pick up the pieces while coping with real-term funding cuts.
“They have become an unofficial fourth emergency service for poor and vulnerable children, providing food and clothing and filling in the gaps left by cutbacks to local services.
“Politicians must end their fixation with Brexit and work together to build a new sense of social mission in our country.
“We simply must do better for struggling families and invest properly in our schools, colleges and other vital public services.”
One headteacher commented: “Some of our students do not have a winter coat for the freezing weather. Some have a free breakfast at school and free lunch because they are FSM (free school meals) and then do not have dinner at home.
“Some feel they have to help with the earnings and provide food for the family even though they are only 11/12-years-old themselves.”