A Scottish Parliament Committee has been appalled by some of the evidence it heard when investigating the impact of poverty on attainment and achievement in Scotland’s schools.
It recommends that local authorities should look at how their policies are impacting on low income families and that school leaders also need to be aware of how school practice affects those families.
The Education and Skills Committee heard from many different sources about the barriers faced by many families being unable to afford:
- school uniform
- materials for some subjects – Home Economics, P.E., Art and Design
The committee’s report can be read here: What support works? Inquiry into attainment and achievement of school children experiencing poverty
James Dornan MSP, Committee Convener said:
“We heard strong evidence that aspects of UK Social Security policy are the single biggest reason for the increase in child poverty. We heard time and again that teachers are increasingly seeing children who are affected by poverty including children coming to school hungry. That this is an increasing problem in Scotland is utterly appalling but we know that this is something that schools cannot tackle alone.
“If we are serious about reducing the attainment gap, then we need to ensure that our schools do not have costs which impact on young people’s time at school including their opportunity to learn. This is not always about big changes, but rather a recognition that even the smallest policy can sometimes have a serious impact on families experiencing poverty.
“The cost of some school uniforms can be prohibitive. Similarly, the move to online payment or selection of school meals or trips creates a barrier for families who are not online.
“Clearly the Scottish Government, education authorities and schools are working hard to address these issues, but there is still more to do. There has to be more support to help teachers and school staff who are working so tirelessly on the front line to help in schools. There also needs to be more recognition of the value of youth workers in our communities and in schools supporting our young people.”
Community Learning and Development
The work of Community Learning and Development was seen as playing an important role in supporting attainment and achievement , however, many youth workers felt that they were undervalued.
The Report has recommended “that the national youth work strategy currently being developed has a strong focus on how youth work and school based education can complement and support each other.”
All children in P1 – P3 in Scotland receive a free school meal, however, some families are not registering for their entitlement as the child moves into P4. This could be because of the stigma for registering or not realising that they are entitled. Concern was also raised at the number of secondary school students buying food outside of school at lunch time that had little nutritious value.
For many families their children face barriers to accessing education. Evidence was provided by Child Poverty Action Group Scotland (CPAG) stating that some subject choices were being made on the additional costs that they would accrue.
“The other big cost is school trips, particularly the primary 7 residential trip that local authorities across Scotland organise. The cost of the trip is well over £300 in some cases—the charge varies, but there is a charge—and there is evidence that children are being left behind and are not participating in the school trip.”
Even the ‘fun’ events of dressing up for things like World Book Day can worry children who know that their parents will not be able to afford some of the more elaborate costumes other pupils come in. And for those who rely on free school transport after school activities are limited if there is no access to transport.
Although the report focussed on children in poverty it is clear that many families will be impacted by the rising costs in accessing education. Some local authorities have introduced charges for musical instrument tuition.
Musical Instrument Tuition
In 2013 the Scottish Government’s Instrumental Music Group reported on tuition in Scotland’s Schools. It stated:
“it would be in Scotland’s interests that every child should have the opportunity to learn and enjoy playing a musical instrument; and indeed that no child should be disadvantaged from doing so as part of their broad general education. “
The report stressed the positive outcome learning a musical instrument can have for a child and the wider benefits it has:-
- active involvement in creative activities and performances
- tasks or performance opportunities which require a creative response
- opportunities to perform or present to an audience
- partnerships with professional performers or artists and other creative adults
- raising awareness of contemporary culture and connecting with young people’s experiences
- appropriate, effective use of technology
- building on the principles of Assessment is for Learning
- both collaborative and independent learning
- establishing links within the expressive arts subjects and with the wider curriculum
- opportunities to analyse, explore and reflect
The report recommended that a National Vision be produced for Music Instrument provision and that “Local Authorities should continue to deliver this service, notwithstanding the current financial challenges.”
The Report now only 5 years old made 17 recommendations to widen access to musical instrument tuition and in particular for pupils with additional needs. Sadly this is yet another area where equality to access educational experiences has either disappeared or has been severely limited.
Information on Grants, Education Maintenance Allowance and Bursaries from Orkney Islands Council can be found here.Grants, EMAs and Bursaries
Reporter: Fiona Grahame