Editorial - Child poverty strategy must come with funds

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Schools cannot do their part to end this national scandal without extra resources

It is hard to think of a more laudable aim than ending child poverty. As Huw Lewis, the deputy children's minister, has said, the fact that a third of children in a modern country such as Wales live below the poverty line is "unacceptable" (p4). Mr Lewis is also right that failure to reverse the problem puts the country's ability to succeed "educationally and morally" at risk.

But the question is: what is Wales to do about it? As its budgets from the UK government inevitably come under pressure, how should it most effectively end a scourge affecting 200,000 young people?

It seems obvious that some of the Assembly government's focus should fall on schools. They are full of committed professionals who work daily to overcome the disadvantages their pupils may face at home. Teachers in deprived areas are already well-versed in dealing with challenging parents and wider social services in a bid to give their pupils an education comparable with their more affluent peers.

But that, it seems, will no longer be enough. According to its Child Poverty Strategy for Wales, the Assembly expects more from schools, including greater use of wrap-around childcare and integration with other services, including health and adult education.

To existing "community-focused" schools, this will seem a natural step. But these schools have been the lucky ones - given extra cash over the past seven years to make extended services affordable.

There have been plenty of others working hard to provide extra services without the funding. They have done it because they think it has been the right thing to do, but acknowledgment from politicians in the Senedd has been scant.

If the government is serious about schools doing more to help tackle child poverty, their determination has to be matched with funding.

Even with money, some schools will find laying on extra services an unwelcome burden. Most will be happy to play their part, but only if they are given the resources to employ experts. Teachers, as some politicians can be prone to forget, are not social workers. They often go far beyond the call of classroom duty, but they do not have the specialist skills that this kind of government strategy calls for.

Everyone is well aware of the perilous financial position in which the country finds itself. The education spending review is underway and hopes to shift many millions of pounds to the front lines each year. But even with that extra money, education faces a difficult future, with public sector spending cuts due to hit Wales in 2011.

As Pam Boyd, executive director of the educational charity ContinYou Cymru, points out in TES Cymru, the danger is that as finances tighten, even more children will be left disadvantaged and fall into poverty. This is a time for priorities. If the government wants schools to help, give them the resources to do so.

David Marley, TES Cymru news editor; E: david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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