A joint National Education Union (NEU) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) survey is the latest report on the worrying state of education and poverty in the UK. According to the findings, the upward trend in child poverty is directly impacting the education of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
Of those asked, 60% school staff thought that child poverty had worsened since 2015, with an overwhelming majority (87%) saying this is having a significant impact on their pupils’ education. The governments own latest figures back this up with 100,000 more children pushed into poverty in 12 months alone. Almost one-third of all children, 4.1 million, are living in families receiving less than 60% of the average national income.
Responding to these finding, FBB’s Jack Reynolds said: “We have seen time and time again with the young people we work with that poverty plays a significant impact on their ability to do well at school.” He added: “What is really distressing about these findings is not just the facts that emerge. FBB, along with lots of other organisations has been pointing this out for a long time. Yet there is this continued lack of acknowledgement from the government, and a lack of appropriate measures to stop this.”
Inequality in education is not a new phenomenon. Prior to the financial crisis and chronic underfunding, the UK had one of the most unequal education systems in the developed world. Students in working-class state schools generally get less money per child, less qualified staff, and much higher turnover of teachers.
In the past few years, however, as government-led austerity has deepened, more and more children have been propelled into poverty. The impact has been becoming more severe, with many of the NEU members recounting the devastating toll of poverty facing their poorest students as “heartbreaking”. One respondent painted a bleak picture of the situation facing their students: “Our school cannot even afford pens so I buy toast and breakfast bars out of my own money to feed them”.
Another respondent, who works in Early Years education, noted, “ children ask every morning if they can have food, their mood and concentration picks up as soon as they eat”. Explaining the impact of food poverty on pupils, the respondent added: “Children from [low-income households] often have a lot less to eat… frequently bring home issues into school with them which impact upon their learning and the learning of others.”
Asked about what can be done moving forward, Jack Reynolds said: “Education and young people’s ability to achieve their potential in school is a multifaceted issue. If a student is struggling we too often look at this as an individual problem, as that student having an isolated issue with their behaviour or attitude.
Our experience is that problems at school are often related to a much wider set of circumstances than simply what is happening at school. Put simply, growing up in poverty makes it much harder to succeed at school. Attempts to tackle the attainment gap in education also need to look at how we can reduce the number of children who are growing up in poverty.”