- The facts on child poverty are shocking: there were 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15, an increase of 200,000 on the previous year. That’s 28 per cent of children, or nine pupils in a classroom of 30. Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK: 66% of poor children live in working families (up from 64% in 2013-14).1
- Poor and insecure housing is a massive issue. According to the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, every 11 minutes a family in Britain loses their home.2 More than 93,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation, the highest level since 2008.3
- Poverty has a significant impact on the educational experience and attainment of many children growing up in the UK. The Government’s measures show a persistent gap in attainment at GCSE between pupils who are classified as disadvantaged and those who are not. In 2015, 36.7 per cent of disadvantaged pupils received five or more CGSEs at A*-C including English and maths, compared with 64.7 per of all other pupils.4 Moreover, there is a stronger relationship between parental social background and children’s test scores in England than in many other rich countries. 5
- The Government says that raising the achievement of disadvantaged pupils and reducing the attainment gap is a priority. However, rather than directing its efforts towards effectively reducing child poverty and mitigating its effects, this Government has instead frequently sought to scapegoat schools and teachers for the “underachievement” of poor pupils.
- Teachers recognise, and are committed to, the principle that education can make an enormous difference to children’s lives, but schools and teachers cannot address society-wide inequity and the effects of poverty on educational achievement alone. That is the job of Government.
- The academic literature is very clear: differences in the social background of pupils are the primary factors causing inequality in educational outcomes. Studies looking at the influence that schools and other factors, such as family background, have on the educational attainment of children and young people have found that the majority of variation in attainment is attributable to the characteristics of school intakes rather than schools themselves.6 One statistical analysis found that only 20 per cent of variance in educational progress could be attributed to schools.7
- It is also known that children who attend schools with a higher proportion of high-attaining pupils or pupils of high socio-economic status on average perform better than similar children in schools with a high proportion of poor and low attaining pupils.8
- This does not mean that schools cannot improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children but to deny the role of outside factors in entrenching educational disadvantage is simply not realistic, nor is it fair.
- Economic background has a serious impact on students’ experience of education. For example, the Children's Commission on Poverty found that a third of children who said their family is “not well off at all” had fallen behind in class because their family could not afford the necessary books or materials. Two in five children in these families said they had missed a term-time school trip because of the cost. 9
- The Government is pursuing policies that are increasing levels of poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that, as a direct result of tax and benefit decisions made since 2010, the number of children in relative poverty will have risen from 3.6m to 4.3 million by 2020.10
- The first study into the impact of the Government’s benefit cuts on children and their education found that the introduction of the so-called “bedroom tax”, alongside other cuts in benefits, was adversely effecting pupils’ ability to concentrate and that the emotional distress caused by poverty was also having an effect on pupils’ capacity to engage at school.11
- Increasing levels of poverty are putting schools under greater pressure. Schools serving deprived communities are dealing with extra challenges including child mental and physical health issues, the impact of unemployment, and higher crime rates.
- At the same time England's schools face real-term budget cuts even with the addition of the Pupil Premium which is supposed to be focused on raising the achievement of poorer pupils. Professor Ruth Lupton has shown that Pupil Premium is a very small proportion of overall school spending (initially 1.3 per cent in 2011/12, rising to 2.9 per cent in 2013/14). This is about the same amount of money per pupil as low income families have lost in benefits.12 The National Audit Office (NAO) estimated that, despite the Pupil Premium, the per-pupil funding of 16 per cent of the most disadvantaged secondary schools actually fell by more than 5 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15.13
- Budget cuts have also reduced funding available to local authorities to sustain and develop vital child and family services which relieve the burden on schools, allowing them to focus effectively on teaching and learning. Cuts to local authority budgets have been highest in the areas with the highest levels of child poverty.14
- The amounts spent by councils on providing services like youth clubs and other out-of-school activities fell from £1.2bn in 2010/11, to £791m in 2012/13. This spending also covers education for excluded pupils, teenage pregnancy services and drug and alcohol support programmes.15
- International comparison of different school systems shows that those which emphasise choice and competition demonstrate higher levels of segregation and that this can lead to less equity in learning opportunities and outcomes.16 In light of this, the Government should re-think its obsession with promoting school choice and competition and focus instead on improving teaching and learning across all schools and fully funding education and children and young people’s services to meet need.
1 Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), ‘UK CHILD POVERTY RISES - 66% POOR CHILDREN NOW IN WORKING FAMILIES’: http://cpag.org.uk/content/uk-child-poverty-rises-66-poor-children-now-working-families
2 Shelter Scotland, Our statistics: http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/home/real_stories/statistics
3 BBC News (24 June 2015), ‘Number of children living in B&Bs hits seven-year high’.
4 Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals in the past six years. DfE (21 January 2016), Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2014 to 2015, p. 21.
5 Connelly et al. (August 2014), Primary and secondary education and poverty review. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, p. 23
6 Ibid, p. 37
7 Jon Rasbash et al. (2010) ‘Children's educational progress: partitioning family, school and area effects’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A: Statistics in Society, 173(3), pp. 657-682. Cited in Connelly et al., Primary and secondary education and poverty review. p. 37.
8 Connelly et al., Primary and secondary education and poverty review. p. 35.
9 The Children's Commission on Poverty (October 2014), At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life, p. 11.
10 CPAG, Child poverty facts and figures: www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures
11 Jo Bragg et al. (November 2015), The Impacts of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ on Children and Their Education. A Study in the City of Manchester, University of Manchester.
12 Ruth Lupton and Stephanie Thomson (February 2015), The Coalition’s Record on Schools: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015, p. 28.
13 National Audit Office (30 June 2015), Funding for disadvantaged pupils, p. 9.
14 Jonathan Bradshaw (9 May 2014), ‘Biggest Council Spending Cuts in North East in Areas With Highest Child Poverty’, North East Child Poverty Commission Blog.
15 Tom Barton and Tom Edgington (20 March 2014), ‘Youth services spending down by one-third’, BBC News.
16 OECD (2013), PISA 2012 Results: What Makes a School Successful? – Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV), OECD Publishing, p. 54.