Simple measures can poverty proof the school day for pupils

Looking at classmate

A scheme to help disadvantaged pupils has been shown to increase attendance and attainment in schools.

Remove barriers to learning

The Poverty Proofing the School Day toolkit, created by charity Children North East and evaluated by Newcastle University experts, aims to remove barriers to learning for the poorest students, who may not have access to the correct uniform, PE kit or computers to carry out their homework. This means they can be stigmatised at school through no fault of their own.

The scheme advocates schools use simple measures to help youngsters living in poverty get more out of the school day. It includes steps such offering students a free drink and snack before exams, improving IT access, more breakfast clubs, changing the ways school meals and uniforms are administered and cutting the number of non-uniform days. These small steps can prevent poorer students being discriminated against during the school day.

‘Poverty Proofing the School Day’ does a great service in reminding us all why it is still so difficult for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to do well in the English education system in the 21st century.
Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith

Positive impact

An independent evaluation of the project by Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith and Professor Liz Todd from Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communications Language Sciences, found evidence of the scheme’s positive impact in schools across the North East, North Lincolnshire and Glasgow.

Their research showed increased engagement at school with the most disadvantaged pupils, including improved attendance, attainment, uptake of free school meals and uptake of school trips and music tuition.

Six schools in North Lincolnshire noted a rise in attendance for pupils eligible for free school meals, with one school noting a 7% increase. Seven North Lincolnshire schools reported increased attainment of pupils on free school meals at Key Stages 1, 2 and 4.

A total of 28 schools have taken part in the scheme so far, with a further 23 additional schools waiting to take part.

Dr Mazzoli Smith said: “This is one of the most important projects I have been involved in my time at Newcastle University.

“By uncovering the myriad ways in which children living in poverty can be stigmatised at school, ‘Poverty Proofing the School Day’ does a great service in reminding us all why it is still so difficult for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to do well in the English education system in the 21st century.

“It is the hidden, unwitting nature of this stigmatisation that is of particular concern. However, as the evaluation highlights, there are a raft of positive steps schools can take to prevent this from happening and to work towards a positive school culture where such practices are unlikely to occur.”

High cost to families

Liz Todd, Professor of Educational Inclusion said: “‘State schooling is supposed to be free. In fact, the cost to families is high. Uniform, food, equipment, study support and other activities central to becoming a successful adult, not optional add-ons. Our research suggests that attainment gains follow when schools take action.

“Schools already pay a lot of attention to the social needs of students. However, this research has demonstrated that there are many way that school systems unwittingly stigmatise poorer students. It takes Children North East’s Poverty Proofing Audit process, a critical friend talking to everyone in the school, for the school staff to see what is happening and to evolve solutions that are respectful to students.”

‘Child poverty has increased in the last 6 years and we are seeing schools as a frontline organisation to support families by paying for many things families cannot pay for – even down to feeding children. At the same time school budgets are being reduced. There is a limit to the extent to which schools can compensate for the impact of low wages and welfare cuts. A response is therefore needed from the government to reduce child poverty.”

Sarah Bryson, Policy and Research Manager at Children North East, said: “The pressure of the rising cost of the school day, from school trips, tuition, and uniforms has a significant effect, not only on pupils, but their families too. We want to limit this stress and encourage pupils to have a positive experience at school, which all contributes to helping children to grow up healthy and happy.
“We know Poverty Proofing the School Day supports pupils living in poverty to improve their future prospects by helping them to be engaged throughout the day by reducing discrimination which can often alienate pupils and lead to a lack of interest and motivation in education.”

Taken from Newcastle University Press Office.

Written by Laura Mazzoli Smith, Research Associate.

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