Poverty Proofing the School Day
One of our favourite expressions at Western is: “Do the best you can until you know better then when you know better, do better” Maya Angelou
As you are aware, earlier this year our school took part in a ‘Poverty Proofing’ audit through Children North-East. We know that at least a third of children in our school live in poverty with our actual figure likely to be well above that – that’s at least ten children in every class. The purpose of the audit was to help us identify and overcome the barriers to learning that many of our children from families with less financial resources face, on a day to day basis, whilst at school. The most powerful thing about the process was that all of our children at Western, and their families, got the chance to have their say. At Western we always aim for the very best for all of our children and this includes taking practical steps to remove poverty-based barriers and protect our children from disadvantage. This process has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on the feedback, celebrate our successes and consider adapting some of our school customs and practices to ensure that no child in our Western Family feels stigmatised or left out.
As family finances come under increasing pressure, we are taking steps wherever we can across school to help minimise costs and relieve this strain. A key finding from the Poverty Proofing process was that pupils often felt pressured to have the latest trends or keep up with certain things at school in order to ‘fit in’, thus putting additional unnecessary pressure on each other. We believe in equality for all and our pupils’ happiness and wellbeing is so important to us. We’ve worked closely with school council and all classes to make some tweaks to things we do in school that we all feel will make a big difference; all children have had opportunities to have their say and have had input in all decisions made. We have all been very creative in thinking of new ways to make sure we all still have fun and have what we need, whilst also ensuring that no one feels excluded or worried if their family is struggling financially.
The following changes have been agreed:
Children and families said that they often find it very difficult to bring spending money for school trips.
Therefore we have all decided that:
- Children will not have access to gift shops on school trips so they won’t ever need spending money. Children attending a residential trip will all receive a small surprise souvenir purchased by school.
Children and families said that it can feel stressful when children are allowed to bring in special things from home to show and share in class. It can emphasise the difference in families that can afford expensive items or luxuries and those who can’t. Many children told us they feel very worried as their birthdays approach as they know their family won’t be able to afford cake or sweets to share with friends and they feel embarrassed. Many families also said they found providing an individual plate of party food stressful just before Christmas.
Therefore we have all decided:
- Not to have ‘show and tell’ type sessions in class. We ask families not to allow children to bring in items from home. Children are, of course, still always welcome to share news and special achievements.
- We will not be allowing children to hand out birthday treats at home time any more. Every child in school will receive a special birthday sticker on their birthday (don’t worry – children with birthdays in the holidays will get theirs too!). This decision has been made by the children.
- School will work with local businesses to provide a party tea for children on Christmas party day so children won’t need to bring their own food in.
Children and families said that they put themselves under pressure to buy staff gifts at Christmas and at the end of term. Children said they feel guilty and worried when they see others buying gifts for staff when their family can’t afford to.
Staff discussed this, voted privately and unanimously agreed the following:
- We ask all families not to buy gifts for any of us please. Your words and appreciation matter to us far more that any material gift. We will not accept any gifts from pupils or families at any point in the year. Any that are brought in will be donated to charity. We ask you to support us with this by not putting any of us into a tricky situation e.g. by sending personalised gifts to ‘get around’ the rule! We really appreciate your kindness and feel lucky to work with your children. We treasure cards and keep them forever. We will provide blank cards in shared areas over the festive season that children are welcome to take home if they’d like to write one for the staff they work with.
Children and families said that clothing, styling and personal possessions can be a real worry and make children feel under pressure to have the latest things. Children report often feeling as though they are either ‘the haves’ or the ‘have nots’ in life because of what they can and can’t afford (e.g. Smiggle pencil cases, huge, elaborate ‘JoJo’ type bows and fancy hairbands, football tops and kits, high maintenance haircuts (e.g. shaved styles which are our not in our policy). We can’t solve this problem in life, but we can do our very best to take away these very real worries in school so that children can just be children and focus on enjoying their learning. Children can, of course, still bring in their own water bottles and lunch boxes.
Therefore we have all decided:
- That school provides all children with everything they need in the classroom. Children do not need their own pencil cases etc. and will be asked to keep these at home. We will all be working hard to make sure that we follow school’s uniform policy and leave fancy accessories at home. As always, football shirts will not be allowed for PE, Sports day or themed days e.g. Comic Relief. Any items brought into school will be sent to the office for safe keeping until home time. Please support us with this; we really appreciate you backing us up in what we’re all trying to achieve – let’s be a unified team!
The changes explained above will be in place when the school re-opens after half term on Tuesday 5th November 2019.
Children and families also raised a number of issues linked to the North Tyneside Catering Service. We have been working closely with the team to come up with some great solutions to barriers raised – look out for an update coming soon!
We’re working hard behind the scenes in school to embed this ethos in all we do – we have, for example, invested in a set of reconditioned bikes to enable all children to participate in Bikeability. Our free toast scheme is working very successfully; we’ve seen a real difference in concentration and the children are very grateful - we’d like to thank all those who volunteer to enable this to happen.
As always if you have any further queries or questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
On a final note, please may I remind you, as always, that we are here to help. You and your children are very important to us all. We are always available for a chat if you need any help or support. We understand that families are often under huge financial pressure and there are often many different things we can do to support you if you are in financial crisis. We can also support you to liaise with other agencies that might be able to help. Please feel free to get in touch with any of us at any time.
Thank you very much for your support.