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Deputy Head Teacher Chris Wardle invited our Schools team to St George’s High School in Blackpool to Poverty Proof the School Day and was struck by how easily disadvantaged pupils were being unintentionally discriminated against by routine practices.

I was once a Free School Meals boy, growing up in Blackpool. I distinctly remember a clothing grant for which we were so grateful; it meant that we could shop at Rawcliffe’s; a posh clothing shop. Was it posh? No it wasn’t but it was a store that many of my friends bought their stuff from, and to me that was all that counted, to be the same as my friends.

I also remember a FSM queue at lunch at school. I asked my mum if I could go onto packed lunches. I didn’t like the segregation. I stayed on FSM, we couldn’t afford the packed lunches. I remember school trips, I didn’t go on one, not even the cheap one to the Lake District; it was out of our reach.

I understand what it’s like to be poor.

Poor mental health

I’ve worked as a teacher in Blackpool secondary schools for 18 years, eight of those as a senior leader.

Often I’ve dealt with children who are at significant risk of physical, emotional, mental or sexual abuse. More often, these children are from an impoverished background. Of these types of abuse, poor mental health is by far the issue that I have come across the most.

In September 2018, I was appointed as Deputy Head of St George’s High School in Blackpool and seconded as Head of Achievement across the Cidari Trust. Graham Warnock, Head of St George’s introduced me to Children North East’s Poverty Proofing programme.

Making the school day more equal

I researched Poverty Proofing and instantly got what they were about; it was about making the school day more equal for those who were impoverished. It sought to redress the balance that unbeknown to schools, through policy and practice were disadvantaging the disadvantaged.

Not for a second am I suggesting that any teacher or school leader would do such a thing knowingly. I am suggesting that policy and procedure may make life difficult for those who are poor unintentionally.

How Poverty Proofing works

We had our school Poverty Proofed by Luke Bramhall, who trained 20 of our year 10 pupils to become lead researchers.

Poverty Proofing is a whole school audit where every child is asked questions around their school day. The questions range from food to behaviour systems. A sample of teaching and associate staff, governors and parents are also audited.

A report is produced and it’s here that you see the power of pupil voice and the ‘wood for the trees.’

We did something about it

An example of one issue raised was that FSM allocation only became live for lunchtime that day. FSM spend was not accepted at breakfast or break time. Why not? We allowed non-FSM children to spend their monies at all break times. It wasn’t that this was intentional from Leadership, we didn’t know.

It was raised, we did something about it. Now the allocation can be spent when the child wants to spend it.

Children North East through Poverty Proofing have impacted our school. We are now more aware and through the report, we are creating a short, medium and long term plan.

We want to ensure equality for all

Children as well as adults think about the way in which we do things in the future to ensure that we’re poverty proofing our school, not just in a snapshot of time but through constant reflective practice.

Our BU Programme is a group intervention which aims to build young people’s resilience to cope with the emotional challenges of everyday life, learning and school and develops their foundations for positive mental health.

Abbie was chosen to take part in the BU course because her teacher said she was quiet in class and often anxious.

Our Schools Practitioner Donna Botham reflects on what happened next. We have used a different name to protect the child’s identity.


Right from the start, Abbie was a very quiet child.

At the beginning and end of each BU session the children take part in a ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’ process where they select a coloured leaf to place on the tree to represent how they are feeling at that moment.

During the first session Abbie chose the blue leaf to show that she was feeling sad.  She continued to choose the leaf to represent sadness at the start and end of each session over the following few weeks.

During conversations about feelings and emotions she became tearful. The teacher said this was not usual for Abbie and although she appeared anxious she didn’t usually express her feelings preferring to bottle it all up.

Over the first few sessions we talked about how it’s normal for everyone to feel a range of different emotions including negative ones such as anger or sadness. The course teaches the children ‘it’s ok not to be ok’.

No pressure

The BU course is a safe space where children can talk about how they feel.  We also made it clear that if the children don’t want to talk about what it is that’s making them feel that way they don’t have to and they only need to share whatever they are comfortable with.

Children are encouraged to share their feelings if they want to but there is no pressure.

Breakthrough moment

Towards the end of the course the class teacher explained that Abbie had plucked up the courage to ask to see the school counsellor.

She clearly now felt more comfortable to admit that she was feeling sad and became open to the idea of talking to someone about her feelings and was aware that talking about her emotions may help her to feel better.

The teacher and TA said they didn’t think Abbie would have asked to speak to the school counsellor or spoken to anyone about how she was feeling if she hadn’t taken part in the BU course.

Abbie is now meeting with the school counsellor and receiving the help and support she needs.

During the summers of 2017 and 2018, we coordinated projects looking at the impact of summer holiday clubs across the North East of England.  

Summer 2018

In Spring 2018, we applied to the Department for Education to provide healthy food and activities for children and young people during the 2018 school summer holidays.

There is a growing bank of evidence to show that disadvantaged children, young people and their families often struggle to make ends meet, eat healthily and take part in stimulating activities and trips during school holidays.  Much of the evidence is anecdotal and the Department for Education funded this research project to gain further insight into different delivery models and the impact of holiday provision.

We were delighted to be one of seven successful applications and ran holiday clubs in primary and secondary schools in six Local Authorities across the North East.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:

For most pupils, the end of the school summer term signals the start of holidays, days out and a chance to make memories with friends and family.  Other families, who might rely on the support provided by schools, are not so lucky.  These projects will provide a range of support for families during the summer break.  They will also give children access to experiences that won’t just create great memories but will help broaden their horizons and build the confidence they need to succeed in whatever path they choose to follow.

 

What we did:

We worked with over 600 children and young people.

We provided 3,660 healthy breakfasts and 7,095 healthy lunches.

Our programmes ran for a minimum of four hours a day, four days a week for four weeks of the summer holidays.

The programmes offered were imaginative, great fun and included lots of trips to challenge and inspire the children and young people.

From donkey painting to crate stacking, from going to the theatre to learning bushcraft skills.  There were so many brilliant activities.  Everyone was fed too – half the schools provided breakfast as well as lunch and many children took food home.

We ended the summer by putting the experiences of the children who took part into a book for the Department for Education:

2018 Summer Holiday Book

Also take a look at this video from our Northumberland cohort’s Summer of 2018:

 

Summer 2017

In 2016, the North East Child Poverty Trust (NECPT) commissioned a study, carried out by Debs Harrison, that found ‘holiday hunger’ was a key issue for struggling families.  NECPT and Children North East applied to Big Lottery for a grant to run a large-scale research project to examine the impact of activities and healthy food during the summer holidays of 2017.  The research partner was The Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University, led by Professor Greta Defeyter.

Four lead partners across the region were selected to take on the delivery role, each working with four or five community organisations in their area.  The four areas where holiday clubs took place were North Tyneside, Newcastle, Darlington and Durham.

As part of the programme, and to help with the university’s research, 226 children completed food diaries comparing food and activities on days when they attended holiday club and days when they did not.  220 children were interviewed in focus groups about health, nutrition and well-being.   133 parents also completed questionnaires and took part in focus groups (64 parents) to explore the impact of holiday clubs on their isolation, financial strain and well-being.  77 staff (paid and voluntary) were interviewed about their development and wellbeing.  In addition, clubs completed programme planners, food record sheets, consent forms and registers to collect information and data required by The Big Lottery.

This short video explains the project and gives a flavour of the holiday clubs:

A celebration day, including dissemination of the key findings, took place in May 2018 at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.  This short video of the day also summarises the research findings:

 

Useful Information

If you are thinking of running a holiday project please check our hints and tips, and learning from the project by following these links:

Hints and tips on how to run your own holiday club

Evaluation Report from Northumbria University

Other key learning from the project

Celebration Event Presentation by Professor Greta Defeyter

Celebration Event Presentation by Lindsay Graham

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)

Christmas is a wonderful time for school children, but we must be careful to guard against inadvertently stigmatising poorer pupils says LORNA NICOLL, our School Research and Delivery Practitioner in this seasonal blog:

I can’t believe that Christmas is just around the corner.  The planning might be different this year but necessary all the same. In this, schools are no different, with Christmas Fairs, Nativities and dinners all being important events.  But in all of this, have we truly considered the impact for those families living in poverty?

Social media has highlighted a fascinating and important initiative from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).  Clusters of schools in the North West compared data, identifying that attendance dips on Christmas Jumper day as well as at other times of the year.  The project emphasises the importance of looking for trends and patterns, not just within individual schools, but from a broader viewpoint.  This is a key message and one that we highlight regularly as part of our work.

Whilst there will be a lot to unpick from the ASCL project and we look forward to hearing more as it goes along, I want to pick up the discussion about fundraising events within schools. Christmas Jumper Day is the tip of the iceberg at what for many of us is the most expensive time of year.  There can be Christmas parties to dress up and provide food for, Christmas Fairs where families purchase handmade items from their children, cards to be sent via the school postbox, gifts to celebrate our teachers, sometimes there are plays to buy outfits for, or a charge for families to attend a Christmas concert and the time they need to take off work (not necessarily paid for, nor possible) not to mention the Secret Santas, Advent activities and Santa visits.

The common thread in this is that all of these activities are great, but do they add additional burdens to families who have less money?  What can schools do to support families? We constantly examine this through our Poverty Proofing the School Day work and have seen some excellent examples of practice that makes sure all children can participate. For example:

  • Publishing a fixed calendar of events of everything that incurs a potential cost for each year group or time off work for parents.  By looking at it through the eyes of your families – what’s it like for the parent or carer with children in Reception and Year 3? Years 7 and 9? What about those with siblings in other schools?
  • Having a central point for families to drop off any donations to charity events/fundraisers such as food banks.  This means it’s not possible to know who has or has not made a donation. Bear in mind some of your families might end up receiving some of these donations too.
  • Collecting money discreetly such as having a drop box by the classroom door.
  • Giving parents information about where to make a donation outside of school, for example, a JustGiving page, charity website, or text to donate number through a platform such as Donr.
  • Having a family donation system whereby not all siblings need make a donation.
  • Decorating accessories in school for all students rather than having dressing up days.
  • Creating a school salon for pupils to get ‘big’ hair rather than asking pupils to dress up at home.
  • Enterprise activities where students are given money to make products or arrange services could be sold at local fairs or markets or alternatively, use a token system whereby all students can be given one to make a purchase.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against celebrations nor having fun, in fact I love them. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t fundraise – charities need and deserve our support.  But having worked with hundreds of schools and hearing pupils talk about their experiences, inclusion is key to a feeling of belonging.  Being different is hard for so many. Schools bring communities together, we rely on them for so much more than learning to read, write and be numerate.  We see this so much more clearly with the pandemic. So as you plan your Christmas celebrations – think about the impact for those that have less money.

NB: At Children North East we explore these issues and many more through our Poverty Proofing Covid-19 Response.  Working with schools across the UK, it is delivered remotely and includes in-depth staff training, pupil & SLT consultation and feedback.  For more details contact lorna.nicoll@children-ne.org.uk.