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Photograph of school children with school dinners

A new report, involving faculty from the Business School in collaboration with seven other research-intensive universities from across Northern England, has investigated the links between child poverty and poor educational performance and calls on the government to take urgent action.

“An evidence-based plan for addressing poverty with and through schools” 

The report produced for Child of the North / Centre for Young Lives analyses the data of over 60,000 children illustrating a link between poverty and the current school attendance crisis, and uses this to set out an evidence-based plan to use the country’s education infrastructure to reduce the impact of child poverty on millions of children. 

The report was commissioned and published by the Child of the North Initiative and former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield’s Centre for Young Lives think tank.

Charmele Ayadurai, Assistant Professor in our Department of Finance and joint executive report editor says, “Despite the UK being one of the wealthiest economies in the world, with favourable economic conditions and rising wealth associated with the years between 2012 and 2021, this has worryingly not been translated into reductions in child poverty.  

In March 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a bold pledge to end child poverty in the next twenty years. Twenty five years on, we are still struggling to reduce child poverty. The task could not be more pressing. 4.2 million children in the UK today are growing up in poverty. One million children are living in extreme poverty. 

The report makes it clear that we need to start prioritising children by promoting an equal life chance from all aspects. It is not enough to raise children’s aspirations through education alone without poverty proofing schools, narrowing the gaps in attainment, or by allowing children to sleep in a cold bedroom or study on an empty stomach. Our children are the hope for the future, let there be light.” 

Tackling child poverty with and through schools 

The report, “An evidence-based plan for addressing poverty with and through schools” argues that schools and nurseries are anchors in the most deprived communities and that they should play a leading role in those areas with the worst child poverty. It calls for: 

  • A new Government plan to support schools to reduce the impact of poverty as a first step of a national plan to reduce child poverty. 
  •  A targeted programme of funding to support schools in those areas with the highest child poverty to coordinate services and support to reduce the impact of poverty on children. 
  • The targeted extension of universal Free School Meals (FSMs) in schools with high levels of child poverty. 
  •  A Child Poverty Unit in No. 10 and a Government Poverty Tsar to drive improvements in education for disadvantaged children. 
  • A national Scientific Advisory Group for Children to ensure evidence, evaluation, and data-sharing lie at the heart of the programme. 

With over 4 million children in the UK living in poverty – 1 million of them in the North of England – the report highlights the negative impact poverty is having on many children’s education, health, and future employment. 

Evidence-led initiatives show the way 

The report draws on evidence to show how many educational establishments have already become anchor institutions within some disadvantaged areas, particularly during the pandemic when schools and nurseries played a major role in supporting the needs of children, young people and families living in poverty. It calls for schools to be supported to mitigate the problems of poverty within the classroom and beyond. 

It highlights existing initiatives that show the positive impact that projects within the school gates can have on alleviating child poverty, including “Poverty Proofing” - developed and rolled out by Children North East - and the related “Cost of the school day” from the Child Poverty Action Group.   

“Poverty Proofing” the School Day is a national programme which aims to ensure that “no activity or planned activity in school should identify, exclude, treat differently or make assumptions about those with less financial resource”.  It listens to the voices and experiences of young people and identifies institutional inequalities in provision as well as providing an action plan to address issues such as affordability and access of uniform, administration and stigmatisation around FSMs, access to resources and activities, behaviour and setting, transport to school, accessing trips and extra-curricular provision, and support for parents and families.  

As a result of the programme, those schools taking part have changed their practices around these issues and have subsequently reported improved attendance and attainment, as well as greater take-up of FSMs and extra-curricular trips and activities, and more effective use of hypothecated funding. 

Enabling school leaders with the tools and the funding 

Anne Longfield, Executive Chair of the Centre for Young Lives said, “Schools are on the frontline of the battle against child poverty but are overwhelmed by what is being asked of them. We need to give our schools and school leaders the tools – and, crucially, the funding – they need to poverty-proof their schools. 

The evidence is clear that investment in the UK’s education system is being squandered because the effects of poverty are not being addressed as an integral part of educational provision. Schools should no longer have to use sticking plaster solutions to tackle poverty.” 

Professor Mark Mon Williams, Child of The North report series editor, adds, “Education is the most powerful tool available to a nation that wishes to invest in its future. Poverty is eroding the life chances of millions of children in the UK and fuelling inequity and economic stagnation. There is hope for the UK’s future, but it requires immediate investment in the eradication of child poverty and the removal of poverty related barriers to education. The weight of scientific evidence shows we must act and work with and through educational establishments to give every child the best possible start in life.” 

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