The Foundation for Education Development (FED) are delighted to share a thinkpiece by Georgina Burt, Development Manager at Child Poverty Action Group. Georgina joined CPAG in 2021 after doing lots of Poverty Proofing with schools across England while at Children North East. Her role involves raising awareness of the Cost of the School Day and sharing good practice examples to make a difference to the experience all children have at school. In this thinkpiece Georgina reminds us that ‘We need to create a truly inclusive school system in which all children and young people get the same experience regardless of their family’s household income.’
What needs to change in education for children growing up in poverty?
On average, 9 children in a classroom of 30 are currently growing up in poverty. The challenges associated with this are widespread. Children growing up in poverty are more likely to have poorer health outcomes than their peers, higher chances of being excluded from school, more challenges with attendance and on average achieve poorer educational outcomes. Despite the work of school leaders and school staff who often go above and beyond to ensure that finances at home don’t pose a barrier for children inside the school gates, all of these differences have remained stubbornly persistent.
Through our UK Cost of the School Day project, Child Poverty Action Group has now spoken directly to over 12,000 children and young people and have heard time and time again the ways in which poverty gets in the way of children being able to make the most of their time at school. Listening to children and young people and the barriers that they face at school raises a really important question: What would a school system designed through the eyes of child growing up in poverty look like?
Children and families have told us, from uniform and trips to costumes for dressing-up days and cake sales, the reality is attending school in the UK comes with many costs. The latest research has shown that the minimum annual price tag for going to secondary school is £1,755.97 per child and £864.87 for a primary school child. That’s £18,345.85 for children to go through all 14 years of school. We hope and expect schools to be places of equity of experience, however families are facing too many hidden and often unacknowledged costs which are adding to stretched family budgets and having an impact on the opportunities that children are able to take up. Education should be a universal childhood experience, but currently too many children are prevented from joining in with all that going to school should include.
We need to create a truly inclusive school system in which all children and young people get the same experience regardless of their family’s household income. As a start, we should look to remove and reduce the school related costs that families currently face. This should include making sure that children have all of the resources that they need to succeed in their learning both at home and at school, that their access to certain curriculum subjects (such as food education, music and art and design) isn’t inhibited by the cost of resources, that pupils aren’t priced out of enrichment activities such as clubs and trips, and that all children and young people get a great school lunch.
Reducing school costs would be a step towards a much more inclusive school system, but to really create a school system that works for all children and young people, including those from lower-income households, we need to be better at listening to pupils about the barriers that they face and the solutions that they would like to see in place. Talking about money isn’t always easy, but with so many children currently growing up in poverty, it’s needed.