September is a fresh start. September is a fading tan. September is bright eyes and enthusiasm. September could be the chance to have a hot meal. September could be a relief. September means all sorts of things for all sorts of people.

Imagine Elland Road football pitch filled with children, around 130 times. That is how many children are living in poverty in the UK. The NUT reported in 2017 that on average 9 children in each classroom will be poor, living in poverty, this is set to rise… You can’t look at any school accountability figures, spreadsheet, register or even seating plan without noting the ‘disadvantaged gap’ but what about the children who make up the numbers? Here at the Leading Learning Partnership we have outlined how recent statistics about children living in poverty could be reflected in your plans for 2018/2019 in order to diminish the difference…

‘Children who receive free school meals or from low income families are more likely to report that they quarrel with their parents and don’t talk to them about important issues’ (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2017)

  • Advocates/champions/mentors/buddies; have your most disadvantaged children got someone to talk to?
  • What are the important issues for young people, does your curriculum act preventatively to support them?
  • How is ‘talk’ promoted in your school, where can pupils go to signpost that they need help? Is this system personalised?
  • Do parents/carers of disadvantaged pupils attend parents evening? Can the format of these evenings be made more accessible, possibly with provision for younger siblings? How intimidating is a hall full of teachers in suits for some adults, how can this be avoided?

Mental health issues including anxiety and depression are rife for those living in poverty (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2017)

Having a happy life with good friends, family and experiences form the foundations for a happy life. Pupils who are poor can often feel ashamed, embarrassed and worried all emotions that can be damaging for their mental health. In almost all case pupils living in poverty will not want others to know, especially not their peers.

  • Teachers are often expected to identify the pupils who receive FSM on seating plans or registers, how well coded is this? A blue dot next to a certain group of pupil’s name is not difficult to decode for a savvy teenager!
  • Do strategies designed to help pupils unintentionally become ‘badges of shame’ for the poorer children, segregating them from their peers? The clear pencil case full of free equipment, the white paper bag on a school trip, (a ‘walk of shame’ to retrieve) the set of cooking ingredients, the lent PE kit, the revision guide given out publicly?
  • Does your entire staff body know what the summer holidays may have been like for some children, are they mindful enough not to ask where they have been on holiday that year?

Children living in poverty are 3 times more likely to fall out with friends and twice as likely to be bullied. (National children’s Bureau 2017)

In a recent workshop run by Child North East the humble pencil case was a key focus. ‘It’s ok’ the delegates cried, ‘we give all of pupil premium children their equipment’. But does the pencil case have ‘interactive sequins’ on the outside, because if it doesn’t you absolutely won’t be part of the ‘cool gang’. This is just one example of how children living in poverty can be excluded, their circumstances preventing them from making friendship groups.

Is your PHSE programme personalised to support children to develop and maintain relationships? Are your pastoral teams experts in dealing with conflict restoratively or do the work on just instinct? Our classrooms are full of research based practice but what about our corridors?

Children living in poverty don’t do as well at school – Leeds and National data 2018

“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985).

How do our action plans ensure that teachers know their pupils well, set high expectations and ALWAYS deliver high challenge and high support? It would be interesting to see what happened if teachers didn’t categorise pupils using ‘FSM’ but actually based on interventions that maybe required for the pupils to reach the same challenging learning goals as others.

There are [also] substantial socio-economic gaps in access to extra-curricular activities, with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to take up activities than their better off peers (46% compared to 66%), with just half of those receiving free school meals (FSM) (Sutton Trust 2018)

  • Why don’t some children attend extra-curricular activities? How can you ensure that all children have the same opportunities?
  • If children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not accessing some of the life skills that can be gained in extracurricular activities then how is this addressed in lessons? How does the curriculum in your school or setting support all children to develop key skills required for later on?
  • Could add extra here: put on buses? Make sure the school logs who attends Extra-curricular activities and analyses the data. Have a challenge for everyone e.g. 20 things to do before you’re 16.

Recently the DfE found that pupils who were on FSM in year 11 were 3 times as likely to be on out of work benefits by the age of 27. How does your school plan to equip children from low income families with not only qualifications but also the opportunities and experiences that give them the same life chances as their peers?

This article will hopefully provide a stimulus to start to examine school practices to ensure that the disadvantaged are advantaged and that strategies have maximum and sustainable impact.

Sarah Chamings

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