As we are bringing children up, poverty is bringing them down. It’s not right that poverty limits children’s chances at school. But when kids grow up poor, financial barriers prevent them from fully participating in school – such as the cost of uniforms, school trips, meals, after-school activities and much, much more. Together with Children North East, we want to lead a cultural shift across the UK to make the school day more inclusive and allow all children to have a happy, healthy and enriching school experience. Children deserve nothing less.

So, we recently announced that CPAG has been awarded £2 million in funding over three years to extend our Cost of the School Day project (pioneered in Scotland) and Children North East’s Poverty Proofing the School Day programme (which works in England) to the rest of the UK.

The project will support children and school staff to remove financial barriers and poverty-related stigma in schools. It combines our track record, in Scotland, of addressing the ‘Cost of the School Day’, and Children North East’s ‘Poverty Proofing the School Day’ programme and we will be operating at scale: 128 schools will be intensively involved in the project over the next three years, and many more will be included and benefit in other ways.

The project puts children in the lead and works with whole-school communities to identify the practical actions front-line staff can take in schools to reduce and remove stigma and financial pressure. We are positioning Children North East’s Poverty Proofing process at the heart of the project, to ensure that children’s voices continue to steer practice.

More than one in four children in the UK are growing up in poverty. At CPAG, we are working to prevent and end child poverty. But while we are pushing for national policy change to tackle child poverty, in the mean-time, we are committed to making the school experience better and more inclusive for children from low-income families. To a child, school is a major part of their lives and it shapes their childhood experiences. And, children deserve a happy childhood regardless of its significance in adulthood. Tackling poverty in schools has been a part of our work for a long time. In fact, one of our first activities, after CPAG was established in 1965, was campaigning for free school meals for children. With this project, we are pressing forward with our work in schools and tackling the bigger picture.

CPAG and Children North East both have a proven commitment to tackling the barriers in our education system that have a devastating impact on children and families living in poverty. We have a shared vision for a more just and more inclusive education system. By forming a partnership, we see enormous potential to change attitudes, practices and policies on a long-term basis and to make all aspects of education accessible and inclusive for all children.

This project has been developed based on strong evidence from two existing programmes that have successfully removed barriers to learning and poverty stigma in schools. For example, a recent evaluation of CPAG’s work in Scotland found that the Cost of the School Day programme led to increased participation in school and after-school activities and reduced financial pressures for families. An evaluation of Children North East’s Poverty Proofing the School Day work found a positive impact on children and families, including improved attendance, a greater uptake of free school meals and a significant impact on the school culture and ethos. Our two organisations have extensive expertise in this area, and both bring a wealth of knowledge, data and insight to the issue. We will use this broad evidence base and experience to work together to achieve tangible results.

Children North East bring their Poverty Proofing the School Day process and essential guidance and expertise to ensure this project gives schools the opportunity to reflect in a unique way, by listening to the voice of all children in every school on policies and practices that may, throughout the day, unwittingly stigmatise and exclude children living in poverty - for instance, the way that free school meals are administered. We are combining this approach with our existing Cost of the School Day model, which has been successfully implemented in different areas of Scotland since 2014. Our local authority wide approach has prompted policy changes at council level with positive impact on thousands of children. We are creating a hybrid of the two approaches, with their different strengths and learning accumulated over the years, to achieve the greatest benefit for children and families living in poverty.

We are very excited by the potential of this project to make a real difference in children’s lives. Together, we can drive a movement among schools and local authorities to recognise and amplify inclusive school practice across regions and nations. Our shared ambition is to achieve a UK-wide cultural shift towards a fairer and more inclusive education system, one in which all children can make the most of the school day and go on to be happy, successful adults.

 

This post was originally published as a guest blog post on Children North East’s website