The Scottish government’s top priority is to narrow the poverty-related attainment gap – the gulf between disadvantaged and affluent pupils when it comes to the school qualifications they gain.
However, according to the country’s largest teaching union, the EIS, few teachers have direct experience of poverty, and while awareness has grown in recent years of its impact on education outcomes, there has been little opportunity for school staff to consider the issue in sharp professional focus.
The result, according to the EIS, is “a knowledge deficit and, potentially, a pedagogical deficit, with regards to responding to the societal issue of poverty which pervades all aspects of school life”.
Now – in a bid to ensure all Scottish teachers are aware of the impact of poverty on learning – the Scottish government and the EIS have joined forces to create a professional learning package for educators, aimed at addressing the impact of poverty.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the project continued his union and the Scottish government’s commitment “to tackling poverty however its effects manifest themselves in education”.
He added: “This builds on our ongoing work in this area, which has previously included the provision of guidance to schools on ‘poverty-proofing’ education provision. This work is more important than ever, as was confirmed in the recent United Nations Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Report which highlighted deeply troubling rates of child poverty in the UK as a result of low rates of pay and cuts to social security provision, and acknowledged the ongoing work in Scotland to mitigate these factors and to tackle poverty more widely.”
The learning package will comprise a blend of online resources and tutorials, paper-based learning materials and school-based workshops, underpinned by research, though with a strongly practical focus. Once complete, the package will be rolled out to schools across Scotland
The ambition is to ensure that over the two-year programme an offer is made to all schools to access the training.
The Scottish government has committed to the funding of £250,000 to support the delivery of the project, with the bulk of the funding going on two project leaders appointed by the EIS.
The EIS has previously produced a pack for schools providing advice for teachers on practical steps they can take to help pupils who live in poverty. It advised teachers that pupils may appear “pale, fatigued, irritable or lacking in concentration” because of hunger. It also warned teachers not to punish pupils for coming to class without the right uniform or necessary resources, given this could be happening “as a possible consequence of their poverty”.
In November, a report recommended that cash should be given to Scotland's poorest families to help them get through the school holidays.
The report by the Poverty and Inequality Commission said that direct cash transfers would provide the most "dignified" way to reduce financial pressures on families, and recommended that the amount should at least match the cost of school meals.