- The facts on child poverty are shocking: According to the Government’s own figures, there were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15, an increase of 200,000 on the previous year.1 This means 30% of children, or nine pupils in every classroom of 30 pupils, are officially poor. The rise in child poverty in the UK has continued for the third year running, with the percentage of children classed as poor at its highest level since the start of the decade.2
- Most shockingly, work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty. According to the Children’s Society, 67% of the four million children in poverty have at least one parent in work, up from 66% last year.3
- Research by the End Child Poverty coalition demonstrates that the poorest families in the UK pay higher prices than better-off families for basic necessities. A family living in poverty is likely to have to pay nearly £1,700 more than a higher income family for essential household items like a cooker, energy and home insurance.4
- Levels of poverty are also projected to rise in the next five years, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicting that, “if planned benefit cuts go ahead and earnings grow as the OBR forecasts, inequality will start to rise”. The IFS also predicts that “low-income households with children will fare worse than other households”5
- The roll out of universal credit is likely to compound the problem for families further. Half of low paid workers are currently paid weekly but a built-in delay to universal credit requires claimants to wait at least 42 days before receiving a benefit payment.
- Poverty has a significant impact on the educational experience and attainment of many children growing up in the UK. The attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and others reduced slightly in 2016, as it has in four of the last five years but the gap is only narrowing slowly and the position of disadvantaged pupils in 2016 is almost the same as in 2013. 6 Moreover, there is a stronger relationship between parental social background and children’s test scores in England than in many other rich countries.7
- 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 are acutely aware of the impact of poverty on the children they teach. One of the most obvious and distressing manifestations of this is the fact that children from disadvantaged households often come to school hungry or malnourished. This not only has a negative impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of those children, it also impairs learning by reducing their ability to concentrate.
- In a YouGov poll in 2014 commissioned by the NUT, almost half of teachers (49%) reported that malnutrition or hunger was affecting the ability of pupils to concentrate.8
- School holiday hunger is a particular problem. While many disadvantaged children are entitled to receive free school meals during term time, hunger among children during school holidays is now commonplace, with parents and carers unable to afford to buy enough food, or food of a high enough quality, for their children during these periods. However, the impact is wider in terms of the number of children affected as holidays become difficult for those low income families who rely on free school meals for at least one of their children’s meals during the school week and terms.
- The NUT conducted a survey of its primary members in March 2017 to gauge the extent of school holiday hunger. A total of 619 responses were received over a two-week period.9 Half of respondents stated that they noticed the effects of holiday hunger on their pupils and, of these, 80% said that the number of pupils in their school affected by holiday hunger had increased over the last two years.
- The extent of the impact of holiday hunger within schools is also noteworthy: 12% of those who responded said that they thought that half or more of the pupils in their school were affected by holiday hunger while 27% indicated that a quarter or more (but less than half) were affected by holiday hunger.
- Poor and insecure housing impacts the most on those in poverty and impacts on children’s educational experience. According to official Government statistics, over 75,740 households were living in temporary accommodation at the end of December 2016.10 The number of families with dependent children and/or pregnant woman placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 630 at the end of March 2010 to 2,780 at the end of December 2016.11
- 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.12 One statistical analysis found that only 20 per cent of variance in educational progress could be attributed to schools.13
- 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.14
- 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 are experiencing real-term budget cuts which are set to be compounded by the introduction of the proposed new National Funding Formula for schools (see Education Funding Edufact).
- Research by the NUT and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) using DfE data shows that, under current Government school funding policy, the 1,000 schools with the highest number of children with free school meals are facing much higher cuts in funding per pupil than schools generally. 15 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, enabling them to focus on teaching and learning. Similarly, as research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown, Government cuts to local authorities are disproportionately affecting the poorest places and the poorest groups.16
- 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.17 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 Department for Work and Pensions, Households Below Average Income: An analysis of the UK income distribution: 1994/95-2015/16, Financial year 2015/16 , DfES (16 March 2017). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income-199495-to-201516
3 The Children’s Society, Four million children affected by poverty, (15 March 2017). Available at: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-and-blogs/press-releases/four-million-children-affected-by-poverty
4 End Child Poverty coalition, Benefit freezes and “poverty premium” leave struggling families out in the cold (January 2017). Available at: http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/benefit-freezes-and-poverty-premium-leave-struggling-families-out-in-the-cold/
5 Andrew Hood and Tom Waters, Historically weak growth in living standards set to continue; low-income households with children to fare worst, IFS Press Release (2 March 2017). Available at: Historically weak growth in living standards set to continue; low-income households with children to fare worst
6 Caroline Sharp, Are secondary schools making enough progress in closing the attainment gap? National Foundation for Educational Research (January 24, 2017). Available at: https://thenferblog.org/2017/01/24/are-secondary-schools-making-enough-progress-in-closing-the-attainment-gap/
7 Connelly et al., Primary and secondary education and poverty review, Centre for Longitudinal Studies (August 2014), p. 23. Further details available at: https://www.researchonline.org.uk/sds/search/go.do%3Bjsessionid=D8B70D2E902F09F32B776C8C2270812E?action=document&ref=B39104
8 NUT, Teachers’ New Year’s Message ((January 2014). For reporting of the findings see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nut-say-new-year-survey-is-damning-indictment-against-michael-gove-9034929.html
9 The NUT carried out an online survey of primary members in early March 2017. A total of 619 responses were received over a two-week period. Full results will be published shortly.
10 National Statistics: Statutory homelessness and homelessness prevention and relief, England: October to December 2016, Department for Communities and Local Government (23 March 2017). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statutory-homelessness-and-homelessness-prevention-and-relief-england-october-to-december-2016
12 Connelly et al, p.37.
13 Jon Rasbash et al. Children's educational progress: partitioning family, school and area effects, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A: Statistics in Society, 173(3), (2010) pp. 657-682. Cited in Connelly et al., p. 37
14 The Children's Commission on Poverty, At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life (October 2014), p. 11. Available at: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/resources-and-publications/publications-library/at-what-cost-exposing-the-impact-of-poverty-on-school-life-full-report
15 NUT and CPAG, NUT/CPAG figures show Government school funding proposals will hit schools with the poorest children hardest (3 March 2017). Available at: https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/nut-cpag-figures-show-poorest-children-hit-hardest
16 Joseph Rowntree Foundation (10 March 2015) The cost of the cuts: the impact on local government and poorer communities
17 OECD, PISA 2015 Results (Volume II) Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, OECD (2016). Available at: http://www.oecd.org/edu/pisa-2015-results-volume-ii-9789264267510-en.htm