The reality of poverty - pupils who have never seen the sea, visited a farm, or had a picnic

Poor pupils doubly disadvantaged by books referring to things they have never experienced

Emma Seith

No see sea

The reality of life for British children living in poverty has been highlighted by a head who told how her pupils had never seen the sea.  

Disadvantaged children see “this wonderful world” on the television and online but they do not get to experience it, according to primary head Nancy Clunie.

“My children are being faced with texts talking about farms or the seaside and many of them have never experienced it,” said Ms Clunie, who has been teaching for 40 years.    

She said a boy in his final year of primary asked her what the sea was, prompting her to immediately organise a school trip to a beach.

The head of Dalmarnock Primary which serves a deprived area of Glasgow was giving evidence to politicians yesterday about the impact of poverty on children’s ability to learn in school.

School trips allowed disadvantaged children to do things like cuddle a bunny, climb a mountain or throw stones in a river,

Ms Clunie said the first thing her school organised when it got its first round of pupil equity funding – the Scottish equivalent of the pupil premium was a residential trip.

"When they come back they have cuddled a bunny or climbed a mountain or thrown stones in the river Clyde," she told the Scottish parliament’s education committee inquiry into the attainment and experience of children living in poverty.  

"These things are missing but they are expected to understand things they have never experienced when reading a text.

“Watching TV and on the computer they are presented with this wonderful world but they have not got experience of it.”

This dearth of experience and lack of opportunity impacted on attainment because books frequently featured things disadvantaged children had never experienced, the head said. 

Ms Clunie’s comments follow those made by a literacy expert at a poverty conference in Edinburgh last week. Professor Sue Ellis from the University of Strathclyde - warned some children do not know what a picnic is and said that when trying to improve literacy schools should be wary of making assumptions about the experiences and knowledge children have.

Last week the education committee heard that overly-elaborate and costly school uniforms were putting pressure on families living in poverty.


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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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