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Our Poverty Proofing the School Day initiative looks at school from the perspective of the poorest student. Here are some top tips to help you start Poverty Proofing your school (as seen on I News):

Changing how free school meals are delivered

Think about how you’re identifying those children who receive Free School Meals – do they have FSM next to their name in the register? Are they told to stand in a different line? Do they receive a brown/white paper bag with their lunch in on school trips? One school found a way to remedy children being singled out on trips by going to the local charity shop and getting a random selection of lunch boxes so students who get Free School Meals get theirs in a lunch box too. This means when they are walking along with their friends, everyone has a lunch box.

Consider how uniforms are bought

Using school ‘branding’ on all aspects of uniform can be a huge expense for parents. Some schools have gone to the local supermarket and checked it is selling jumpers in the school colour. In some cases they don’t, so either they have to request that they will, or re-consider the colour of their jumper. In some schools, the ‘wrong’ uniform can see students punished. We challenge that and say if someone doesn’t have the right uniform, the first reaction needs to be: ‘is everything ok? Is there anything we can help with?’ It should be a trigger point for schools, rather than a point of punishment.

Rethinking the register

In some schools the register is projected on to a wall with either a dot, FSM or Free written next to the free school meal students. Students told us this is how they knew who was on free school meals – just get rid of this column.

Non-uniform days

Think about how many you’re having and at what times of the year. Some schools have decided not to have non-uniform days and have things like ‘odd-socks day’ or ‘wear something green day’ instead. Non-uniform are also often for charity which involves asking for a small donation, which some parents may not be able to give their children. Instead of a teacher going round table by table asking each student for it, how about a bucket so when children walk in they can drop their pound in and then no-one knows if a student didn’t have a donation to drop in.

Addressing present-buying for teachers

While present giving to teachers is not expected by schools, it’s not always actively discouraged. To combat this some schools are discouraging presents, and are suggesting donations for a local food bank, or a card or handwritten note instead.

Making after-school clubs more accessible

Some students of schools we had been to weren’t accessing after schools clubs because you could wear what you liked, with better off students wearing the latest football kit or designer clothes.  To make these more accessible, some schools have changed the policy to be school uniform or PE kit only, taking away identifying anyone who doesn’t have the latest designer trends.

Asking important questions about school trips

Some of the big questions about school trips should always be why is that trip happening, and how is it improving the value of the education? Things to consider when planning a school trip are:

Notice

Make sure you give parents plenty of notice. Most people get paid or receive universal credit on a monthly basis, so would need at least a month to budget for the trip.

Subsidies

Are there any subsidies on offer for large trips? Parents can often be unaware that they can access these subsidies.
understanding the real cost – it’s not always the cost of the trip that can be the issue. The cost of providing items for that child to go on the school trip can really add up too. We always work with schools to understand what the real cost of the school trip is.

How resources for food tech are delivered

At some schools we’ve been to, students who can’t bring in ingredients for food tech don’t get to take part in the lesson. We’ve also been in schools where the food has been provided but at the end of the lesson if it hasn’t been paid for, the work gets put in the bin. We would always encourage schools to look at alternatives such as asking for the money for ingredients and having the school provide them, then if a parent doesn’t pay, the school can look into providing it instead for that student. One school we’ve worked with has a process in place where everybody puts their food in the fridge at the beginning of the day with their name on, and for pupil premium students, the school provides the food, but nobody is identified as all the food is in the fridge with names on.

Looking after spare PE kits

If you’re a student with only one PE kit but your top has a hole in it, you don’t want to have to wear the PE kit that has been stuffed in the back of the PE office. It becomes a barrier to taking part. In some schools, we’ve seen spare PE kits that are immaculate and that’s what we would encourage. Present your spare PE kits as decent PE kits and wash them after each use.

As the North East sees the UK’s biggest rise in child poverty levels outside London, Francesca Hogg, our Poverty Proofing Practice Adviser, explains why it’s time all schools were poverty proofed

 

End Child Poverty has just released new research showing the extent of child poverty over the past four years. Shockingly, the North East has seen the UK’s largest increase in child poverty since 2014/15, rising from 26 per cent to 35 per cent which means that, after London, the region has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK.

This is of huge concern, given these statistics do not take into account the disastrous impact that Covid-19 has had on family finances. However, we have already seen unemployment in the region rise to 6.6 per cent in August 2020*, making it the highest rate in the country, so it is reasonable to assume that Covid-19 will mean more families struggling to stay afloat and those families that were already in poverty prior to Covid-19, being pulled deeper into poverty.

These rising levels of poverty, a result of the structures within our society, will have had an impact on children’s health and wellbeing, but we also need to be asking, how does it affect their participation in school life?

In a classroom of 30 children, there will be an average of nine children living in poverty and through our Poverty Proofing the School Day programme, we know that living in poverty means turning up at school with an empty stomach and not being able to afford school uniform costs. It means events like non-uniform day become far from fun and the simple homework activity of making a volcano becomes unattainable.

“As a charity, our mission is to ensure ALL children and young people grow up to be healthy and happy, so it is our duty at Children North East to support children and their families so they can fully participate in the school day.

These shocking statistics, mean that now more than ever, our work is vital.”

 

Through our Poverty Proofing the School Day programme, we work with schools across the country to explore barriers to learning that children in poverty face. We help and support schools to further the excellent work that they do and explore what the school day looks like from the perspective of the poorest child in their school.

This leads to small, practical changes to policies and everyday practices, so that all children and young people can enjoy and participate in the learning and fun that school offers.

Given that Covid-19 has presented additional challenges, it’s more important than ever that we understand and have an awareness of the full impacts that poverty can have on children and young people. Therefore, we have adapted our programme to be delivered online and to explore barriers specific to Covid-19. So I’d urge schools to get in touch with us about how we can support you to overcome barriers to participation for children and young people in your school.  For more information, get in touch with us at CNEschools@children-ne.org.uk or visit our website at www.povertyproofing.co.uk.

ONS (2020)