Education professionals are reporting a significant increase in the visibility of child poverty in their school/college and have provided many distressing examples from daily life.
In advance of the National Education Union’s annual conference in Liverpool this week (15-18 April), more than 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff from across the UK took part in a survey on the State of Education and the conditions they are having to work under.
In-work poverty, housing issues such as high rents, homelessness and insecurity, as well as fears about how matters would deteriorate with Universal Credit, are common factors.
They are having a parlous effect on the learning of children living in poverty.
This situation is compounded by the education funding crisis which means schools and colleges can, reluctantly, do less and less to attempt to counter the impacts of poverty on young people’s education.
There is a clear link, too, with the austerity agenda of successive Conservative governments.
NEU members showed that they are deeply concerned by the effects of poverty and low income on the learning of their students, with an overwhelming 91% agreeing it to be a factor.
Half the survey respondents feel it is a significant factor.
This is a view consistently held across primary, secondary and college sectors.
If independent providers are excluded from aggregate figures, some 97% of respondents in maintained schools, academies, free schools and further education establishments said that poverty affects their students’ learning.
And over half (52%) of these respondents said the effect was large.
Since 2016, members have noticed a change in the ‘presence and effect’ of poverty or low income on pupils/students in their workplace.
The overall figures are as follows:
- Half of respondents (50%) believe things have got worse or significantly worse.
- Less than a third (30%) described the situation as consistent with 2016
- Just 2% described an improved situation.
One respondent said: ‘The poverty gap has clearly got bigger. The number of students displaying difficult behaviours has increased and poverty is most certainly a factor.’
A significant number of members described a widespread concern about school uniforms:
• ‘Several wear clothing that is ill-fitting or not clean. Shoes are often ill-fitting or very worn, coats are often inadequate for weather.’
• ‘We have bought uniform items and pretend they are from students who have grown out of them.’
• ‘Children coming to school with holes in their shoes or cheap shoes which are not weather proof. Children attending school with no coats, no socks and without other essential items of clothing.’
• ‘Dress-up days can be… a very sad day. The rich children show off and those struggling with finances are really noticed by the other children … so they may decide not to attend school on that day.’
• ‘Food banks are an everyday necessity as is the market for either free or second-hand uniform. Parents have no spare money and children are suffering.’
When asked in a multiple-choice question to identify the impacts on learning that could be attributed to poverty, over three-quarters of respondents said that their students demonstrated fatigue (78%), poor concentration (76%) or poor behaviour (75%).
More than half of members said their students had experienced hunger (57%) or ill health (50%) as a result of poverty, and more than a third (35%) said students had been bullied because of it.
• ‘Overcrowding in homes, so children do not have space to do homework.’
• ‘Far more students are finding it harder to concentrate.’
• ‘Most of my class arrive at school hungry and thirsty.’
• ‘Some students have mentioned that they have not had any food for two days, some come without having breakfast and with no dinner money but are not on free school meals.’
• ‘Their social and emotional needs are not being met and this is having detrimental effects on their learning and behaviour.’
• ‘Lack of funding in real terms means my school has to stop providing things such as free breakfast.’
Commenting on the survey results, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Government does not want to hear these stories from the frontline of teaching, but they must.
‘It is truly shaming for the UK, one of the richest countries in the world.
‘A decade of austerity has only served to place more children in poverty, while at the same time destroying the support structures for poor families.
‘This was an ideological strategy and the findings of this survey are its effects. Put simply, the government is failing to recognise the human costs of its actions.
‘Government must stop blaming schools for the impact of its austerity policies upon the most vulnerable in our society and take action to alleviate the suffering of the increasing numbers who are living in poverty.’
The survey of 8,674 members in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was conducted between 28 March and 3rd April 2019.
Over half of the respondents (53%) are classroom teachers and around a quarter (26%) are in head of department or leadership roles, including head teachers.
The sample works in a range of school/college settings, including primary (37%) and secondary (42%).
Meanwhile, the ‘March of the four-year-olds’, organised by campaign group More Than A Score will be marching to 10 Downing Street to hand in a 64,000-strong petition demanding a halt to the government’s plans to test four-year-olds when they start school.
A group of 4-year-olds will personally deliver the petition.
More Than A Score said: ‘Now it’s time for the government to listen to parents, teachers, heads and education experts.
‘Those who know our children best all agree: testing four-year-olds makes no sense.
‘We want as many pre-school children and parents as possible to join us on the day.’
The details are:
The March of the 4-Year-Olds Thursday 25th April
12:00-12:15: Gather in Parliament Square
12:30: March to Downing Street
13:00: Hand in petition at 10 Downing Street
‘Please also bring signs, placards and musical instruments. We want to be seen and heard!’
YouGov has surveyed over 200 headteachers, deputy heads and primary school leaders to investigate their views on assessment in primary schools.
The results – commissioned by More Than A Score – reveal a raft of concerns including:
An overwhelming majority of primary school leaders (93%) believe that the government should review the current system of standardised assessment.
The same number believe that policy is decided without sufficient consultation with heads or other experts, while 87% think that politicians don’t listen to the views of headteachers when making education policy.
More Than A Score points out that, from next year, primary school pupils will be tested in reception, year 1, year 2, year 4 and year 6, despite opposition from teachers and academic experts.
The campaign group believes that children are being used as data points to measure accountability.
Year 6 SATs (Standard Attainment Tests) – the most high-profile pressurised tests currently taken by primary-age children – come in for damning criticism from heads and other school leaders.
They agree that both teachers (98%) and pupils (94%) are placed under unnecessary pressure because of SATs, and 96% have some concerns about the effects of the tests on the well-being of pupils.
All survey respondents say they have discussed issues about SATs with their colleagues including SATs causing stress in their working life (89% agree); concern about the welfare of pupils (87% agree); not being able to reach SATs targets (83% agree).
93% of respondents say they have been contacted by parents raising concerns about their children in the run-up to KS2 SATs, including: their child feeling stressed/anxious because of SATs (83% agree); their child being under too much pressure because of SATs (69% agree); their child possibly getting poor grades (61% agree).
Clare Campbell from More Than A Score, said: ‘Our research highlights the top-to-bottom unfairness of the system.
‘At the behest of the government, our children must sit high-pressure tests under exam conditions.
‘Their teachers and schools are judged on the resulting data which can’t possibly provide an overall assessment of all that they are capable of, and these results then follow them all the way to GCSE level.
‘The government insists that our pupils sit these tests, so it is the government who should be held responsible for these negative effects on the curriculum and the unnecessary pressure placed on our children and teachers.
‘Heads and teachers know our children best. It’s time for a complete review of the ways we assess primary school children.’
Looking to the future, Helen Longton-Howorth, from the campaign group concluded: ‘I’d like the government to really listen to us and stop tinkering with education. Stop continually introducing new initiatives and changes to assessment and overhaul the whole system.’