School proms and fancy-dress fundraisers stigmatise poor pupils, report finds

New research highlights how teaching pupils and staff about the effects of poverty can help schools better support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

Schools should consider cancelling school-leaver proms to avoid stigmatising disadvantaged pupils, and headteachers should ask private companies to help feed poorer children, says a new report on the damage poverty does to education.

The research shows that poverty affects far more pupils than commonly thought, and it criticises schools for forcing parents to use expensive uniform suppliers.

The report outlines a range of measures a school can take to support poorer students, including approaching large supermarkets and other businesses – such as farms running “wonky” vegetable schemes – to ask if they would provide food to schools.

Schools should also calculate how much money parents are asked to contribute over the course of their children’s school lives, and change their policies in order to reduce this bill.

The report also highlights that more than 20 per cent of children in Edinburgh live in poverty, while Scotland-wide figures show that 55 per cent of children have lived in poverty for at least one of the previous seven years.

And there is a gulf in educational performance: in 2014, six students from Edinburgh’s poorest families gained three or more As at Higher, against 290 from the wealthiest families.

The report outlines the work of the 1 in 5: Raising Awareness of Child Poverty in Edinburgh project, which aims to help teachers and pupils better understand the effects of poverty on education.

Teachers and pupils in six pilot schools have been taught about the causes and effects of poverty, and the myths that surround them. Teachers have admitted previous “ignorance”, while schools have been rethinking many of their policies.

‘Most parents struggle with school costs’

The report highlights that 71 per cent of parents struggle with the cost of school, including essentials such as uniforms and stationery, as well as trips, subjects with extra costs and one-off events such as proms.

Leaver proms and similar events saw many pupils embroiled in “competitive and ostentatious spend” that some could not keep up with, the report says. Schools had already come up with alternatives such as trips to the beach or barbecues, it adds, or “doing something for the local community”.

Parents, pupils and staff in focus groups all raised concerns about expensive dress-down and fancy-dress charity days as a potential disincentive to come to school.

School uniform is another bone of contention: the average cost per child is estimated at £159 per year, and families felt strongly that they should be able to shop around for cheaper deals. But an internal City of Edinburgh Council report found that over half of primary and secondary schools were generating income by obliging parents to use certain suppliers.

Schools in the 1 in 5 project audited all extra costs requested of parents for trips, events and other activities. In the seven years of primary school, this bill could come to over £1,000. Edinburgh education convener Paul Godzik said that initiatives like this were crucial in closing Scotland’s attainment gap.
EIS union assistant secretary Andrea Bradley said teaching pupils about poverty enabled them to make judgements on media narratives where poor people were stereotypically depicted as feckless or as migrants.

Ms Bradley, a former secondary teacher, said assumptions should never be made about what children can bring into school, and classrooms should always be well stocked with basics such as pens, pencils and rulers.

This is an edited version of an article in the 10 June edition of TESS. Subscribers can view the full story here, or to subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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