Schools 'can be weapons against poverty’

Anti-poverty work in schools should be based on human rights and empowering pupils, not charity, says report

Emma Seith

Schools have potential to be ‘weapons against poverty’, says new report

A report into a new programme established to help teachers respond to often Dickensian levels of poverty” in Scotland is advocating that schools take a human rights-based approach to tackling poverty.

The programme is credited by one depute head with spurring his Glasgow secondary school on to help families claim £400,000 worth of benefits they were entitled to through the appointment of a "financial inclusion support officer".

The report – which looks at the impact of a new professional learning programme for teachers – argues that if children and young people are to be able to claim their human rights as adults, “they have to know what they are”.

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It states: “A human rights-based approach can transform a school’s approach to poverty... research demonstrates, and participant feedback underlines that anti-poverty school-based work is more inclusive, empowering and sustainable when based on rights – not charity.”

Schools helping to fight poverty

The EIS PACT project, funded by the Scottish government, was established to help teachers explore through professional learning the nature, causes and consequences of poverty, as well as the possible practical and pedagogical interventions to mitigate its impact on children and young people’s school education.

Although to date the project has involved small numbers of teachers, one secondary depute head, Murdo Macdonald, says in the report that working with PACT gave him “the confidence to carry out substantial anti-poverty work and not simply see it as an add on”.

That led to him seeking out support to ensure that the families at his school, Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow, were claiming all the money they were entitled to.

To date, the school’s families have been helped to claim £400,000.

In the report, Mr Macdonald writes: “Many families received backdated monies running well into the thousands of pounds. This model is now being rolled out across the city to all the secondary schools and some primaries."

He adds: “Working closely with PACT and sharing thoughts, opinions and strategies reminded me of why I became a teacher in the first place, it boosted my belief in this kind of work and the huge, as yet mainly untapped, potential of using schools as weapons against poverty.”

The EIS PACT project grew out of preliminary discussions between EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan and education secretary John Swinney at the 2017 International Summit on the Teaching Profession, held in Edinburgh. The EIS teaching union and the Scottish government then made a joint commitment to develop an evidence-based anti-poverty professional learning offer for teachers.

EIS assistant secretary Andrea Bradley said: “As a society and as a teaching profession in one of the richest countries in the world, we should neither accept the existence of poverty nor of educational inequity.

“Governments at both UK and Scotland levels have significant responsibility and power to act against poverty but with the necessary government support and funding, and with the right cultures in place, services such as education also have a role to play.”

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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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