I am one in three

1st September 2000 at 01:00
Official figures put more than 30 per cent of UK children - 4.4 million - below the poverty line. And while growing up poor can blight a child's health, academic achievement and life chances, a supportive school can make all the difference.Reva Klein draws five portraits of young people whose families struggle to get by

Terry Creissen OBE, headteacher, Colne community school, a rural school in a generally middle-class area with a small number of children on low incomes.

"The inspection regime and media expectations place so much emphasis on academic results that we often forget we have a social responsibility as well. Only when schools are properly recognised and funded for supporting children in their social as well as their academic development will this happen.

"At Colne, we develop a passion for learning in all children by setting high academic standards with realistic but challenging targets. We encourage students to take on responsibility, give them the opportunity to determine their future and help them develop self-assurance, assertiveness and the skills to see themselves as valuable and valued members of society."

Holly Bell, 15, Colne community school, Brightlingsea, Essex

"I live with my mum, stepdad and three younger brothers in a village called Great Bentley. But really it's boring Bentley because it's so quiet and there's nothing there except for acres of grass. There's no youth club or anything - only a pub which we're not allowed into and a village shop.

"That's it. I get pound;10 pocket money at weekends but some weeks I don't get any if my mum doesn't have it. If I'm going out, normally pound;10 isn't enough because of train fares into Colchester.

"When we've gone to the village council to say we want better amenities, they've said to us: 'You can hire the village hall for pound;18.' So we all just sit on the green or stand at corners, getting bored, smoking fags. Most of us are in relationships. I've been with my boyfriend for two years. He's 20.

"I eat a lot of ready-made food because I often don't fancy what my mum makes. So I'll make myself pizza or chips. Normally, I don't have breakfast although my mum gets at me to eat before I leave for school. But I can't be bothered, so by 11am I'm hungry and will get something in the refectory, like crisps or chocolate.

"I really like singing and acting but since I've been doing a hair and beauty college course on Fridays, I'm hopefully going to go into hairdressing when I get older. I'll go to college to get my qualifications for another two years after my GCSEs.

"I haven't really thought about university. I don't think I could handle it. But since last year I've been doing a lot better at school. A lot of kids I know feel they don't have to try hard because they think they're going to do things like hairdressing for the rest of their lives. But if that doesn't work out, they need to have something else to fall back on."

Zana Kuqi, 11 Argyll primary school, Camden, London

"I live in a bed and breakfast with my four sisters, mum and dad. In Kosovo we had a big house and a garden. Here we live in two rooms.

"My parents haven't been allowed to work since we came here two years ago.

"At home, my dad sold kitchens until he lost his job because of the war. We weren't really poor but we didn't have much to eat. Other people came to our house to hide from the police. Some of them were injured and we had to share the little food that we had.

"Here, I help my mum cook and clean because I'm grown up. But sometimes I get the younger ones to help and stand there like a queen watching them and I'll say: 'Oh, that job really suits you.' I like to dance, do drama and swim. I'm thinking of becoming an actress but I also like designing things like clothes and houses, and I definitely want to go to university. I read diaries and books about growing up and feelings.

"I like The Diary of Anne Frank. Some of it seems like it was my own life. I also wrote a book about how I came to England and how I think things are different in this country.

"I have lots of wishes but the most important one is that there are no more wars. I want to go back to my country. I like it here but I miss my home.

"I left so many people behind."

Usha Sahni, headteacher, Argyll primary school, located in King's Cross with a high proportion of refugees. Ninety-one per cent of children speak English as a second language.

"We invest a lot of time, emotion and energy in getting to know our families, many of whom are transient and may only be staying with us for days or weeks. This helps the teaching and support staff to become sensitive to their circumstances and interact appropriately.

"We also raise funds for basic needs (clothing, book bags, fruit snacks) not from our parents but from our business contacts. We seek a balance always in supporting the families in ways that enable them to maintain their dignity. And we have an ethos whereby a safe environment is considered a key to the children's emotional and social well-being and security.

"I can say with confidence that the children do feel 'safe' and 'free' and are able to talk quite openly about what they may be going through. They have an enormous capacity to support and empathise with each other, too, and collectively look to the future with a real sense of optimism."

Laura Bainbridge, 11 West Walker primary school, Newcastle upon Tyne

"I live with my mam and brother and sister in a three-bedroom council house.

"Mam works behind the snack bar at the bingo hall from one in the afternoon 'til six. My grandad comes down to help look after us after school.

"I have a piano at home that my dad bought me and I love to play it. Some cousins buy me piano books so I can practise. They aren't rich but they have lots of money in the bank.

"I've never been out of Walker (the neighbourhood) except once, when we went to pick up my auntie from Liverpool Airport.

"Most days for tea we have Chinese takeaway, takeaway pizza or fish and chips. On Fridays, mam takes me to McDonald's for a burger. If she's not in, I'll make myself toast or something. In the morning, I have breakfast at the breakfast club at school.

"If I had lots of money, I'd buy my mam and dad a big house with a jacuzzi and a soft-top Ferrari. When I grow up I want to be an archaeologist 'cos you get to travel around the world and meet people and you'll be able to be famous and find ancient things that other people have been looking for.

"I'd really like to do something with my life that my mam will be proud of.

"I want to make a name for myself before she dies."

SECTION:Features NO PHYSICAL FILENorma Redfearn, retiring headteacher, West Walker primary, located in one of the most deprived areas of the northeast. Seventy per cent of West Walker pupils receive free school meals.

"You can't approach education as if you're operating on a level playing field. Your starting point has to be where the children are. If mothers are having a terrible time at home with nowhere to go for help, if they're depressed or being abused or don't have enough money, their children won't learn. The important thing is to bring in the support services that families - parents and children - need to give them the self-esteem, confidence and hope that poverty strips them of.

"You have to take a holistic approach to education, particularly in areas like this. I'm determined to give these children a sense of success so they can go out feeling good about themselves and positive about learning when they enter secondary school."

David Mohadeb, 15 Broughton high school, Edinburgh

"My mum bought our council flat and I live there with her and my 17-year-old brother, who I share a room with. Both mum and my dad are charge nurses. He lives in Paisley but I see him often.

"My mum works full-time, starting early in the morning and usually finishing at about two in the afternoon, so she's at home when we get home. She's tired at night and goes to bed at 10pm.

"I like biology and maths and I'm a good student most of the time. I used to skive sometimes, but I don't any more. I think it was my age. The guidance teacher in my first and second year was someone who was important to me. She kept me on track. You could talk to her as another person, not just as a teacher.

"I do a sports and recreation course at the local further education college twice a week, as part of the school curriculum. I like going there and I think I want to be something along the lines of a fitness instructor. Both my parents went to university but they're okay about it, as long as it's something I enjoy.

"When I get older, I want to have a family and to have my life sorted out with a proper job. I'll want one or two kids and wouldn't want my wife to work when the bairns are small. It's important that they get a good education."

Gordon Ford, headteacher, Broughton high school, which has an intake encompassing the most privileged and most deprived populations, located across the road from Tony Blair's former school, Fettes College.

"Broughton has an infrastructure that supports individual children whatever their background. This includes a guidance system in which one teacher gets to know a youngster's circumstances in detail, as well as getting to know the parents. That teacher also liaises with the many external agencies that help support families.

"We're also constantly fighting against the anti-achievement culture by positively celebrating achievement, whether it's the success of the debating society or the pupil who gives up occasional evenings to look after an elderly neighbour. We know we can't overcome the existence of poverty but what we can do is further develop a support structure which recognises that school is often the only stable part of a young person's life."

Simon Chamberlain, 13 Burnage high school, south Manchester

"My mum was a single parent from when I was five 'til I was seven. It put lots of stress on all of us. She felt ill then and lost a lot of weight. I kept getting into trouble at school. I had lots of suspensions because I'd get angry and get into fights. It made my mum even more ill.

"I'm not getting so angry anymore. I saw a counsellor at school for a while and now I'm in an anger management group. It's helped me to see how stupid it was to behave the way I did.

"Until now I've been living with my mum, her boyfriend and my half-brother, but now I'm staying at my dad's. He's not working, so he can look after me and my half-sister. But still, my mum gives me money every week.

"My mum lives on an estate that has gone through rough periods but it's better now because the police have put barricades around so people can't drive their cars through anymore.

"My mates get all the latest gear, and what I get isn't rubbish but it isn't the best.

"My mum always makes an effort to get me what I want and she'd go without for herself - clothes, things for the house - just to keep me and my half-brother up to date. When her boyfriend lost his job for a while, she scraped together money for me to go to Italy on a school trip, even though she doesn't work.

"I give her a hard time, but she's always been a hero. It's hard for me to say sorry and to say I'm grateful."

Alan Hill is retiring as headteacher at Burnage high school, where more than 60 per cent of the pupils speak English as an additional language and receive free school meals.

"A disadvantaged background often carries with it low expectations, poor self-image and low self-esteem. We aim to counter that by providing our young people with adult role models with whom they can identify, from the same ethnic backgrounds.

"We have built up a strong mentor support system in which the pupils have trust and confidence. We also have a well developed pastoral care system, where students and parents feel there is a high level of commitment by the staff and where pupils feel they are known and respected as individuals. Within subjects such as PSHE and drama, developing self-esteem is given a high priority."

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