“It really did deliver new understanding of how we can help our pupils and families”: Poverty Proofing© Swalwell Primary School

Swalwell Primary School has inclusion at its heart. Based in Gateshead, the school is a small mainstream primary school with two specialist provisions. One for children with physical disabilities and a second, more recently established, one for autism. At Swalwell, what makes you different is something to be celebrated and every pupil is encouraged that they have the right to be themselves. This includes the three out of five children eligible for pupil premium and those from families they see managing the difficult grey area between qualifying for support and just missing out; they estimate between 75% and 100% of pupils live in postcodes of above average deprivation. 

Guided by Rachel Hocking, Headteacher, Karen McCall, assistant headteacher and Katie Doyle, Family Support Worker, the school whole heartedly embraces its role as ‘more than just classroom educators’, going above and beyond to support pupils and their families to survive and thrive in this challenging financial climate. Initiatives include running an onsite foodbank; gaining grants on behalf of parents for essentials like ovens and washing machines; a free Breakfast Club that welcomes everyone; and a ‘walking bus’ that helps parents manage work shifts and caring roles, whilst improving attendance. Their attention to detail is also impressive, with touches like giving foodbank users supermarket branded bags putting the experience of those accessing support at the heart of decision-making. 

We spoke to Rachel and Katie about how taking part in a Poverty Proofing© audit had given them new perspectives on how to provide support to pupils and their families. 

Rachel shared why the team got involved with Poverty Proofing©, “We wanted to take part in the audit because we don’t know what we don’t know. Having a third-party organisation come and speak to our pupils, parents and stakeholders enabled them to share their voices without feeling overwhelmed. It was the right time to do it because the cost-of-living crisis is putting greater financial pressure; I want to ensure we are working with our community towards better outcomes for our pupils.” 

With the school already heavily investing in creating an inclusive, equitable experience for pupils, what did the Poverty Proofing© report findings offer? 

“The big outcome of taking part in the audit was changes to the ways we reach families with opportunities to access help,” explains Rachel, “we were sharing things on social media and ad hoc, but lots of families who could benefit weren’t seeing all the support available to them. In particular, we found that new families that joined during the school year were missing out.” 

“It really did deliver new understanding of how we can help our pupils and families.”

Getting the word out became an overnight priority and, as Katie explained, they now have a system in place to stop any family slipping through the net, “We now have a dedicated termly newsletter that goes out to all families, including paper copies, through email and on social. It lists each individual support opportunity and has my contact details on so any parent/carer can reach out about the challenges affecting them. Any family joining during the school year is given a copy so they can see straight away what help is available and how to access it.” 

Rachel adds, “We also moved Katie’s office from a space accessible through the staff room to a larger, more central location. This makes her more visible and accessible to everyone, from pupils to parents to the professionals attending the school and working with the children.” 

The school are now putting into action a long-term plan from the findings of the audit, which has been embraced by staff and governors. 

What is their advice to a school thinking about going through the Poverty Proofing© process? 

Rachel shares her view, “Just go for it! It can feel on paper like a big commitment, speaking to every pupil, and sensitive inviting the scrutiny of your communities, but it isn’t onerous. Reflecting on the frame of mind we started with, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’, it really did deliver new understanding of how we can help our pupils and families.” 

“It’s useful to be aware it’s a conversation”, Katie adds, “for example, the team explored how lunch bags for free school meal pupils on trips can reduce stigma, but due to the number of kids who receive them in this school this played out differently at Swalwell. The process, it’s about what is right for your pupils, and we are always eager to have an open conversation about that.”