Is child poverty is getting enough attention from the government?
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking on Voice of Islam radio show about ‘child poverty’. The show discussed the relationship between benefit cuts and poverty and asked the question: does child poverty receive enough attention from the government, as well as causes of child poverty in UK?
This discussion looks at the long-term impact of child poverty on the nation, on children’s health and on educational attainment. This post is a transcript of my interview and you can listen to the recording and hear my views from 1 hour 44 minutes onwards.
Presenter (1h 44 mins)
Do you think child poverty has a significant impact on the educational experience and on the attainment of many children? And how does it affect the learning process and experience of acquiring knowledge that a child has to go through in school?
That’s a very complicated question, so let me break it down a little. Firstly I’ve been teaching for 20 years working in London state schools and some of the most challenging boroughs in the country. One example, where the school population is between 1300 – 1400 students, 75% of children are registered as having free school meals. A solution that we have been using recently, is the support of a great charity called Magic Breakfast who offer funding for free breakfasts to schools to give to their students. Since we’ve been doing that, our school canteen in the morning is absolutely packed!
We know that breakfast is a really important meal of the day. Going back to your original question, if I could take in terms of ‘if children do not eat’ for whatever reason, that has a significant impact on their behaviour in the classroom. There is some research by GL Assessment that I have been involved in: it impacts on a student’s feelings towards school, their attitudes towards teachers, their attendance. It restricts their confidence when dealing with challenging tasks, their own self-regard as a learner, how they can respond to the curriculum and their general work-ethic. They have bad attitudes towards food and can bring in all sorts of junk food (in their bags) to school.
Schools have an obligation to – not to search kids bags – we have an obligation (as form tutors) perhaps to look at what our children are eating. We have a good inclination and teachers are very well-trained in recognising symptoms and signals in children that are vulnerable. Teachers also have a huge wealth of data that they can use to track students’ progress and to also look at their home situation as well.
It’s very complicated, but what students eat throughout the day does have a significant impact on their capability as a learner. We only need to look at the evidence: kids get free school meals, but they only receive this during the term-time (and not in the holidays). There is some research by the Trussell Trust I believe, and some statistics by the National Pupil Database (Department for Education) that shows children who achieve 5 A*-Cs outweighs other students by over a quarter when compare to students of low-income and/or students who receive free school meals.
So, there is a huge plethora of data out there that shows evidence: students from low-income families – kids that do not eat, do not do as well as their peers in school.
Presenter (1h 48mins)
Unfortunately with many schools, they are going to be facing a lot of budget cuts. Do you think schools are still able to provide this extra effort required to help less well-off students?
There is absolutely no doubt that school are facing the most challenging times they’ve ever had – and certainly during the time I have been teaching. The government claim that there has been more spending on education then there has ever been, that may be true, but in actual real-terms given inflation and all those different factors, schools are working with much fewer resources and funding than there has ever been!
One example, is a school that is working with £1 million less than they did three years ago. If you take this as a teacher’s salary, you’re looking at a large number of teachers or support staff [whose jobs are at risk or are not needed] who you can’t employ anymore. So, those cuts not only impact on the staff who are your key asset in any school, it also severely restricts what a school can do to enrich a child’s life. Such as school excursions, classroom resources within the school and the classroom; there is also an impact on catering.
The government may takeaway school funding, but this also restricts the catering and the catering staff within the school itself. Let’s also not forget, that those colleagues are also working under severe pressure to meet dietary requirements; to provide a certain amount of sugar and salt, healthy foods and healthy eating (daily recommendation allowance) requirements. So, caterers even have certain targets that they need to meet [to make their work viable, despite less funding to work with].
If you takeaway funding in any aspect of life, things are going to get more difficult and challenging. So, it’s going to be very difficult for lots of schools looking ahead.
Ross, unfortunately that’s all we have time for. There are a few more questions that I had, but we are really short on time. Thank you for joining in our conversation.
The interview podcast is here.