What is the cost of Christmas at your school?
With prices increasing and standards of living an ongoing concern for many families, many are worried about Christmas. What can schools do to help disadvantaged pupils over the festive period?
Christmas can be a challenging time for many of us. Deciding what to buy people, organising festivities and the pressure to make Christmas magical for our own children. However, for families who are going to struggle to even heat their house this year, these concerns are the least of their worries. School is a safe space for many children who have challenging home lives. They know they will be fed and cared for during the school day. Once the term is over, school staff will be breathing a sigh of relief but some of our pupils will not be celebrating.
What are some of the issues and how can we support in school?
Home life concerns
Domestic violence spikes: During this period, more alcohol is consumed and people are around relatives for longer. Relationships can be strained. Add in financial concerns and emotions can run high. Children who live in abusive or turbulent households often dread Christmas. We need to look out for children who seem apprehensive before the holidays or show symptoms of trauma upon their return.
Cost of Christmas: Families who are barely scraping by will be feeling worried about Christmas. With no free school meals during the holidays, food can be a real issue. Some families may need to choose between presents and heating. Childcare costs at this time of year, so that parents can work is also an issue. When you get back to school, January may seem even bleaker due to negative spending.
Good routines undone: Those families where you have put extra work in when it comes to attendance, progress or behaviour may relax back into old habits over the festive period, meaning you need to start again in January. This has a knock on effect to behaviour at home which adds to stress levels. A lack of structure and routine unpredictability is not helpful to many children, especially those with special educational needs as well.
Hiding poverty: This subject is still hidden away and pupils will try not to show that there are financial issues due to fear of the attached stigma. Look out for parents finding excuses to not attend school trips or similar and dig deeper into the reasons behind decisions. Some families may not be claiming free school meals that they are entitled to and schools may not be receiving pupil premium for some who need it.
A recent House of Commons Briefing Paper suggests that on current trends, by 2021/22, the share of children in relatively low income after housing costs will be at its highest for as far back as there is consistent data (the 1960s).
What can schools do?
Focus on Christmas spirit: Rather than schools talking about gifts and writing letters to Santa for material items, focus on human attributes that make the world a better place.
Add up the school cost of Christmas: Consider at the planning stage the costs of Christmas jumper day and a Christmas disco and a nativity costume. See how much you are asking your parents to spend. Can this be reduced?
Supporting families: Some schools go a step further and actually deliver food to families at Christmas and also get local company sponsorship to provide presents. Explore with your leadership team to see how your school could help. I have heard of one school that opens for families on Christmas eve to provide a meal and a visit to Santa.
Support individual pupils: Look out for signs that Christmas will be a challenging time for individual pupils and explore the issues further. Can the school put anything else in place to help?
Which charities can schools support?
Could your school get involved in supporting disadvantaged children this Christmas?
Action for children – By becoming a Secret Santa and raising money, you could help put the magic back into a vulnerable child’s Christmas.
The BookTrust – The BookTrust Christmas Appeal raises money to send surprise festive book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care.
Let’s help to support families to make Christmas a special time for our most disadvantaged pupils.