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Children living in poverty face significant barriers to learning

  21st April 2019

It has been widely understood for decades that poverty rates correlate with behaviour and academic outcomes in nursery and then in school. What is perhaps not so widely understood is the extent of the problem today. A recent survey of NEU teachers illustrates a significant increase in the visibility of poverty in schools. If this turns out to be accurate then it will only serve to exacerbate an already significant attainment gap between the least and most deprived pupils.

Many teachers in the survey reported pupils, entire classes of the most deprived children, attending school hungry and with inadequate clothing. Some teachers recalled spending their own money to buy breakfast for their pupils, while others have explained how they keep wipes and spare clothing to wash smelly children. Another notable problem is pupil fatigue, with some children as young as pre-school age going without proper bedtime routines or places to sleep.

Most teachers will do everything they can to help their pupils, but the issue is not just one of compassion. Levels of deprivation are strongly linked to behaviour and learning. When things are not great at home the impact on children can be very clear in school. A lack of confidence, focus and social capital make it difficult for children to engage fully with educational opportunities. And while there are many children living in poverty who are well looked after and able to participate in school despite their home circumstances, significant numbers are not.

However, the problems associated with poverty are complex and multi-faceted. Simply throwing money at it may technically lift millions of children out of poverty, but it won’t truly tackle the social problems that deprivation has caused. To do this we need a range of measures that really tackle the heart of the problem. We need to get more professionals into disadvantaged communities, working with families to improve outcomes. We need more funding in schools and nurseries to provide additional support to children from disadvantaged communities. And we need to further invest in, and take seriously, early intervention for babies and toddlers from the most deprived communities.

With the right support and funding in place then significant improvements can be made; and only then can we genuinely improve the life chances for our most vulnerable children.

Posted in categories: Children's Health, Parenting