Poverty Proofing in a pandemic – supporting children, families and schools

With pre-pandemic child poverty already at unacceptable levels and more families falling into the poverty trap due to COVID-19, never has our Poverty Proofing the School Day work been more relevant.

The release of Child Poverty Action Group’s ‘The Cost of Learning in Lockdown – family experiences of school closures’  a report of the survey of 3,600 parents and carers, gives us extremely useful insight into what life has been like for those living on low incomes during the pandemic.

Inequalities widened

Many schools have not closed during lockdown and continue to pour time and resources into educating all pupils and students in new ways.  However, many educators, researchers and decision-makers are seriously concerned that inequalities are being exacerbated by the pandemic. Most children have not attended school since the end of March and for them, home schooling has become the new norm. However, as the CPAG survey highlights, too many families are struggling to provide support, not because they do not want to, but because they are unable to.

Around a third of all families who responded said that they were enjoying learning at home, and these families were much less likely to report having money worries or lacking the resources they needed. Families who were worried about money were more likely to say they found it difficult to continue their children’s education at home.

In the survey, 40% of low-income families reported they were missing at least one essential resource to support their children’s learning – one third of the families who are most worried about money have had to buy a laptop, tablet or other device. It is fantastic that money has been made available to resource this but devices need to get to the right students NOW!

Here at Children North East, we have been able to support some pupils with laptops thanks to the generous donations of individuals and businesses. However, we would still like to do more.

There is also a call for more support for children and parents during current and future disruptions to school life – alternatives to free school meals must continue over the summer break as the report was completed before the successful #HolidaysWithoutHunger campaigning of Marcus Rashford, amongst others, to ensure that Free School Meals continue throughout the summer holidays.

Need for dignity

Of course, there is the wider question as to why, in a society that values compassion, children are allowed to go hungry. And there are also more practical questions as to how can we ensure that all children now eligible for Free School Meals are registered and how to ensure that the delivery of this service is done in a dignified way that does not identify those in receipt of them. Looking back to our own school days, we know all too well the stigma that is too often attached to being a recipient of free school meals.

Adapting and building upon our work over the past five years, the survey has helped form our Poverty the Proofing the School Day COVID-19 response. Having poverty proofed hundreds of schools, we know the impact of our work. Our new streamlined, cost-effective version by no means replaces a full audit, but it does provide schools remotely with a powerful tool to identify key issues within their communities and offer solutions that do not inadvertently highlight or exclude those on low incomes. It’s about ensuring schools are fully inclusive.

For more information please contact myself, Lorna Nicoll, at lorna.nicoll@children-ne.org.uk

Our news story about the CPAG/Children North East report is here