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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.

Are you a whiz with the whisk or a marvel with the mixer?

Then why not take part in our Bake4Bairns fundraising challenge?

Backed by Tyneside’s Hairy Biker, Si King, Bake4Bairns is all about cooking up a storm to help the region’s babies, children and young people to thrive.

It’s simple to join in – just make your favourite sweet or savoury bake, donate £5 to the charity along with a photo of your culinary creation; then nominate five others to do the same.

Celebrity chef, Si, said:

I’ve been a long-time supporter of Children North East and I’m delighted to be involved in their Bake4Bairns Challenge. It’s important, particularly now in the environment we’re in, to get involved because small acts of kindness make a huge difference to families in need.

In the last year our staff have delivered more that a million minutes of support to our 5,400 plus beneficiaries.

That help begins from pre-birth – for example supporting expectant parents – right up to providing help to teenagers and young people 25 and under.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve also set up a range of new services such as a seven-days-a-week domestic abuse helpline and delivered more than 2,200 arts and activity packs to pupils and families around the region to help whilst they’re at home.

Senior Fundraiser, Carol Taylor, added:

“With many events cancelled due to social distancing measures, we thought an at-home baking challenge would be a tasty way for people to fundraise and help North East youngsters at the same time. As we’re based on Tyneside it just had to be called Bake4Bairns!

We know how generous the North East is – and how much we love our pastries – so we’d love as many people as possible to get involved and send us their pictures. The challenge goes on right through to the end of October so there’s still plenty of time to get cooking!”

More than 2,600 children have now received ‘Scrappy Dooz’ craft packs from Children North East, thanks to donations from a vast array of different organisations and individuals.

When Children North East first put a call-out to help fill and distribute resource packs for pupils under lockdown, our supporters were amazing! The arts organisation, Culture Bridge North East, was among the first to respond with craft materials supplied by the Arts Council and we’ve had thousands of pounds-worth of funding from lots of others, including the Community Foundation (both Tyne & Wear & Northumberland and County Durham CF) via the The National Emergencies Trust (NET).

On top of that, North East businesses, community group like the Lions and individual members of the public have also generously donated thousands of stationery items; games; books etc to bring joy to the region’s young people. Our staff and volunteers have worked so hard to pack them all up for different age groups and distribute them to the most disadvantaged areas.

The mum of this little boy described receiving packs for her children as “like Christmas had come early”.

 

 

Playful Lives is the name of a new Children North East project that has been keeping families entertained in their own back yards.

Lockdown has been harder for some families than others and this project, based in Newcastle’s West End, has helped alleviate some of the stress parents have been suffering.

Mum, Lisa France and her three children, Lyla, three; Joseph, six and Thomas, five, have been shielding since March because of Joseph’s asthma.

Young children painting fence with water

James and Lyla painting their fence with water.

So Lisa loved having our playworkers, Lorna, Paula and student social worker, Lauren along to give them some time. Lisa, a teaching assistant at a local school, said:

“Playful Lives has been great because the children have had no interaction with anyone other than me. I love them and they love me but they must be sick of me by now. Just the fact that there’s three extra pairs of hands here today, even for just half an hour to an hour, it’s brilliant!”

 

The Playful Lives team have used old cardboard boxes to make a pirate ship with the children as well as organising games of hide and seek.

Playful Lives is part of Newcastle City Council’s Best Summer Ever, a holiday activity scheme aimed at supporting the city’s five to 18-year-olds during the school holidays.

Our charity is working closely with the West End Schools Trust, a charitable educational trust formed by eight primary schools, and other partners to create a multi-agency Children’s Community in this part of the city. There’ll also be an ongoing research element to the work overseen by Newcastle University.

Schools like Bridgewater Primary have recommended families who feel they could benefit from the Playful Lives project to engage with our team.

Andrew and Shirley Poste’s family have also enjoyed Playful Lives. They have two daughters, Maddison, who’s nine and Tamzin, ten. Shirley said:

“This has kept the kids really entertained and they look forward to them coming.”

It was chocks away for Sunderland dad, Jim Farquhar, when he took to the skies for a daredevil wingwalk which raised more than £1,000 for Children North East.

Jim, 44, said he felt exhilarated and ‘free as a bird’ as the biplane he was strapped onto soared 500 feet into the air before diving to just 50 feet off the ground.

“You can ask the pilot to either take it easy or give you the full experience and I went for the full works,” said Jim, Chief Operating Officer for Nicholas Postgate Academy Trust in Middlesbrough.

Bucket list tick

Jim, who lives with his wife, Adele and 11-year-old son, Harry, in Ryhope, Sunderland fancied doing a wingwalk for several years but it took the experience of lockdown to spur him on and tick it off his ‘bucket list’.

“I’d not committed to it before lockdown but part way through, I thought, ‘Right, given everything that’s going on, I’m going to make sure I take up a few of the things I want to do.’”

Jim hadn’t originally intended to do the wingwalk as a fundraiser but decided at the last minute to do it ‘for a good cause’.

“When I was looking for a charity I wanted something North East based and Children North East jumped out, particularly with my links to education. The impact they have on disadvantaged children in schools decided me to support them.”

 

Last year our Schools team worked with 17,751 primary and secondary pupils in schools around the North East and another 25,324 pupils in other areas of the country through our Poverty Proofing the School Day initiative. And during lockdown we’ve distributed more than 2,200 activity packs to children to help them do their school work at home.

Apart from doing a tandem sky dive 25 years earlier, Jim hadn’t done any other nail-biting adrenaline activities. “It’s nice every now and then to be outside your comfort zone and feel that fear and nervous anticipation,” Jim said. “It was nice to feel that again but whether I want to rush into anything else just now is another matter!”

Jim’s wife, Adele, might just be thankful for that. “She thought I was a bit crazy and I think a little bit worried but she just let me get on with it. It’s definitely not her cup of tea – if there’s any turbulence on a flight, she’s not a happy bunny!

Superhero dad!

“My son Harry couldn’t quite comprehend what I was doing until he saw the video and now he says I’m a superhero!”

Jim travelled to a private airfield in the Cotswolds to do the wingwalk with the world-renowned AeroSuperBatics display team.

“The only way I can describe wingwalking is that you feel like a bird. It’s absolutely amazing and the views are stunning.”