"HAVING to choose between this child and that child, that's not reasonable."

It's the "dreadful" reality facing the region's schools, as they try to make already stretched budgets go even further this winter.

With the cost of living about to rise dramatically, households across Wrexham and Flintshire are bracing themselves for the worst.

But the impact in our communities is wider, with some schools already being hit by the severity of the situation.

And as we head into the colder months, things are not expected to improve, with the reality being a likely rise in the numbers of children arriving at school hungry or cold.

The Leader: Ysgol Bryn Alyn in Gwersyllt.Ysgol Bryn Alyn in Gwersyllt.

It's an genuine concern. Headteacher at Ysgol Bryn Alyn, in Gwersyllt, Adele Slinn, said: "I don't think we're seeing the full impact yet, and that's the problem.

"But we have already got a rise in free school meals, and my concern is we're going to have more and more children coming into school hungry.

"We're already looking at measures to be able to support families: the food we supply in the canteen, free breakfast club for all students and after school clubs, offering somewhere warm to go.

"We know our families really well, and will always support them but there is such a pressure on schools with budgetary restraints."

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The pressures on the schools' budgets mean they have less to help those who require it most, including supporting those who struggle to afford school trips.

Mrs Slinn added: "If schools aren't properly funded, it becomes much more of a struggle for us to be able to help these families in need.

"The Welsh Government needs to step up and properly fund the schools so we can support our families.

"We will be in a position where we can't help everyone, and that isn't fair. We're a very inclusive community, and will always support every student, no matter what, but when you look at your budget and it's a case of having to choose between this child and that child, that's not reasonable."

As staff, seeing children struggle is difficult, and Mrs Slinn said: "It's dreadful. We have an incredibly caring staff and some already put their hands into their own pockets to be able to get things for students.

"They would prefer to help as much as they possibly can to ensure those children are safe, fed and warm.

"Morally, we couldn't allow our children to go home without doing something.

"It's a sad state of affairs when teachers are having to do that, rather than schools being funded properly."

It was an experience reflected by business manager Wendy Evans at Ysgol Clywedog in Wrexham.

The Leader: Ysgol Clywedog in Wrexham.Ysgol Clywedog in Wrexham.

She said: "We have already had more families asking for help with trips or with materials for certain courses.

"Our utility bills will be going up very shortly. Some have seen a rise of 100%, so we're not quite sure what to expect.

"We are going to have to make a few changes in school to reflect that, to accommodate it.

"Costs of the material we use have gone up, which has a knock-on effect. We are having to be even more careful with the budget.

"Less supply staff are available as they seek contacts at places to offset their own rise in cost of living, which is understandable."

Most schools have a role in their communities beyond education, and are a source of support for local families.

Read more: Round up of news and events in the School Report

Headteacher at Flintshire's Ysgol Treffynnon John Weir said: "Our FSM (free school meals) values have risen to 40% now, it's significantly higher than it was.

"We already offer a free breakfast club for everybody, it doesn't matter who they are, to ensure our FSM families and those more deprived can get their food throughout the day.

"We operate free after school care, clubs, we pay for music lessons and trips. We fund extra staffing to help some in terms of their learning, some have had their literacy levels impacted more than others.

"Previously we have collected food parcels for Christmas, clothing for families identified as the most needy."

This commitment to the community, the school families have been a core fundamental at the Holywell high school but Mr Weir is aware the demand for it can only increase.

The Leader: Ysgol Treffynnon.Ysgol Treffynnon.

He added: "We get more families approaching us now. They don't like to tell us but when you start a conversation, they then reveal they're struggling.

"On occasion staff have clubbed together and bought microwaves for some families.

"With the help of governors, we're buying duvet covers, pillows, blankets and coats, because for some families this year, it's going to be food or heating."

It's not an issue where schools expect to see things improve any time soon. Mrs Slinn said: "The frightening thing at the moment is we can't see things lightening. The budgets are what they are, and they're only going to get worse, what with the rising costs of living.

"Unless we get proper budgets in schools, we are going to have to make difficult choices that we shouldn't have to make.

"We will see more and more staff using their own money, and we can't continue to live like that."

Read more: 'Inequality' as sixth-form students have no transport to Welsh language school

The school has budgeted for the rise in bills but Mrs Slinn stresses it will not be an option to not heat the school, adding: "Heating the school is a must. We have to ensure our children are warm, safe and well fed.

"It's a fundamental human right to have a safe, warm place and enough food to eat. It's paramount to us."

Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures on schools, local authorities and other public services as a result of increasing energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis, and that there are no easy answers.

“The rapid rise in inflation has meant that the Welsh Government’s budget is now worth £600m less than it was at the time at which we set our spending plans. The Prime Minister and Chancellor must act urgently to restore the value of Wales’ settlement, providing an uplift to the Welsh Government’s budget to recognise these severe pressures.

"Only the UK Government has the financial firepower to provide the level of support required, and it must use the levers which only it has to help public services, individuals and businesses through the crisis.

“The UK Government’s recent announcement introducing the Energy Bill Relief Scheme is welcomed, however, it may not be sufficient with businesses and public services facing up to six-fold price increases in their energy bills. The measures provide only a temporary respite and little certainty to help our public services, including schools, plan ahead.

“We are working closely with the Welsh Local Government Association to get a clear picture of the pressures on education due to the rise in inflation and the cost of living crisis. The Minister for Finance and Local Government and other Ministers will be engaging closely with local government leaders on the budget and other issues.”

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