New toolkit to help London schools tackle poverty

With child poverty likely to rise sharply as the UK enters a coronavirus recession, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Greater London Authority (GLA) have produced a practical toolkit to help London schools tackle poverty in the classroom.

Figures released earlier this week show the capital’s child poverty rate had reached 39%, even before the pandemic. It is the UK region with the highest child poverty rate. The pandemic is likely to make these figures much worse, with some estimates suggesting that 200,000 more children in the UK will be growing up in families living under the poverty line by the end of 2020.

Tackling child poverty: a guide for schools provides practical lessons and tips for schools on how to prevent and mitigate the worst effects of child poverty, to help London children living in poverty thrive in the school environment and get the most out of learning.

Drawing on examples and evidence from innovative programmes that are working well in some schools, the guide makes the case for ‘extended schools’: services that go beyond the classroom education of children, such as homework clubs, additional classes for disadvantaged children, sporting and cultural enrichment activities, before- and after-school childcare, holiday childcare and play provision.

The guide contains ideas and tips on how schools can:

  • find out what support children and parents need and actively promote services to families, such as claiming free schools meals and other financial support
  • bring down the financial barriers to learning, for example by reviewing and addressing the costs of uniforms, school trips, and subject costs
  • make the most of their local community and work with private and voluntary sector organisations to pool resources
  • establish practical partnerships with other organisations to bring in expertise and support services for parents, such as adult education, immigration advice and employment support.

The guide is being released this week as part of London Challenge Poverty Week, a week of joint action against poverty by organisations working alongside low-income families in the capital. London Challenge Poverty Week runs from 12 to 18 October.

The guide features examples from schools which have successfully taken steps to tackle child poverty:

One school featured in the guide established a community space on land attached to a new nearby housing development, which will include a community garden where children and parents can grow food and cook together. The school has also partnered with a football club, so that children can use its facilities.

Another school highlighted in the guide established partnerships with a number of external organisations to support children and parents living in poverty, and invites them to run workshops in the school and speak at parent events. Partner organisations include a counselling service and agencies with expertise in welfare rights and immigration issues.

A primary school started hosting information and advice sessions for parents focusing on financial and employment support, as part of a wider goal to increase children’s attendance at extended school activities. The school also surveyed pupils directly using a child-friendly electronic survey to understand their views on out-of-school provision and help ensure finance was not a barrier to taking part.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Many schools in London are already providing families in need with emergency help and food, but some schools want to go beyond this kind of emergency help and do more to routinely support children and parents. Our guide aims to inform these schools and offer them practical advice. We recognise that schools are managing heavy workloads and facing many challenges due to Covid-19; and ultimately it is for Governments, not schools, to prevent poverty. But small actions can improve children’s experience of school and allow them to engage more fully with education. Londoners want every child to have the chance to reach their potential but the pandemic is likely to see more of the capital’s children fall below the poverty line. Now more than ever, schools have a crucial role to play to protect London’s children from the potentially lifelong effects of poverty.”

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Greater London Authority, said: “Every child has the right to a good education but for children living in poverty, key elements of school life – from going on trips to taking part in clubs – incur unmanageable costs.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the deep inequalities in our society and it is increasingly clear that it is the households and families with the least who are suffering most.

“This report offers schools practical guidance on how to better support low-income families, empowering teachers to consider alternate ways of organising learning and enabling all children, whatever their background to achieve their very best at school.”

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