“We’re looking at our curriculum and thinking about diversity”: One school’s Poverty Proofing© quest

“One aspect of the audit that surprised us was how much pupils remembered difficult moments. As teachers, we are mindful of things like asking about holidays and birthdays… but sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. Hearing from the children their experiences and how they were sometimes affected for a long time was really eye-opening.”

Gemma Robertson is the Headteacher of Greenfields Community Primary School, located in the village of Wideopen. Serving 300 pupils, the school is close to the idyll of the Big Nature Water Reserve and green space, but also faces the challenge of being on the fringes of a sprawling city.

Greenfields is in a catchment area that Gemma has seen slowly changing under the pressures of cost of living and Covid. Taking part in a Poverty Proofing Audit was a way to ensure the school was continually developing its approach to meet pupil and family needs. She explains, “We know some parents will be struggling more than usual or maybe struggling for the first time under current financial pressures. We always want to explore how we can do better and are really keen to ensure no family feels they have to ‘keep up’. The audit also took the pressure off staff by giving us insights to act on.”

Greenfields already has a history of innovation when it comes to reducing inequality to remove barriers for pupils living in poverty.

“As a Leadership Team we’ve been conscious of the ideas behind poverty proofing for a while, partly because we all have diverse experiences that include working in schools in very disadvantaged areas.”

Their ideas have included simple fixes, “We’re very strict with party invites. It’s not just about people being left out from one birthday, when they see invites being shared some children may feel embarrassed that their family could not afford a birthday party.”

Where they have been trailblazers is in breaking down barriers to enrichment activities. “We used Pupil Premium money to buy sets of KS1 and KS2 bikes. Riding a bike is a valuable life skill but we know not all parents can afford a bike. Every year group has ‘bike week’ to use the bikes for activities and students who don’t know how to ride a bike have the opportunity to learn with one of our teachers in the gym at break time. We’re very proud this year that every one of our nursery children can ride with stabilizers!”

Trips are also a key area for Gemma and the team. “We work very hard to limit the cost of trips. We’ve stepped away from third-party providers and challenged ourselves to write a new rulebook. We’ve tested different times of year, new locations and activities and, because coaches are a significant cost, utilising public transport – more of a challenge when we are served by only one bus route!”

Given so much work was already going into removing barriers for pupils, how was the Poverty Proofing © audit received?

“We found it really good. We knew it would be really good. The team made it easy to engage the staff. This type of process always raises the concern that staff will fear being judged, but the Children North East team came in and really clearly explained the process.

“The pupils also really enjoyed it. They loved meeting new people and talking about themselves. I think especially since Covid we haven’t had many visitors so it was nice for us to see them engaging with people from outside the school.”

Greenfields’ audit will be used to inform changes when school starts up again in September, with some work already beginning.

“We are looking at our curriculum and thinking about diversity. This process has really helped us reflect on how we include a child’s financial background in that. Are we instilling our values that no one should be left behind in our pupils?”

“My message to schools considering going through the process is that it is a really positive thing. They don’t come in and rip apart what exists, they support you to listen to the pupils and reflect on how you can make things better for children and families. It’s a conversation.”