With central heating, free meals and a sense of security and stability, school can offer welcome relief for children living in poverty. But experts have claimed that many aspects of school life still make poor children feel excluded and singled out because of their backgrounds.
That is why a new pilot started in Glasgow this week, hosted by the Child Poverty Action Group, to identify school practices that inadvertently mark out children living in poverty as different from their peers. The Cost of the School Day project - based on an idea developed in England of "poverty-proofing" schools - aims to ensure that poorer children are not made to feel excluded as a result of school activities.
A cross section of children and young people from eight schools will take part in sessions looking at the school day from the perspective of a child from a low-income household. They will analyse aspects of school life including uniforms, socialising with friends and after-school activities.
"We want to build up a full picture of what a school day is like and what the challenges might be," said project coordinator Sara Spencer, who will be collecting the young people's views. Participants will also be asked to rate the effectiveness of current schemes to tackle poverty.
As she started her work in schools this week with a session at Avenue End Primary in Glasgow, Ms Spencer told TESS that the issue of disadvantage affected all schools in the city to some degree, with one in three children there now living in poverty.
She explained that research had shown children and young people could be missing out on opportunities at school because they could not afford them and "might be experiencing a difficult time because they feel different and because of anxiety".
Ms Spencer said she hoped to bring the results back to individual schools next term so that practical approaches could be developed to deal with specific issues. As some of these solutions were likely to involve external groups, she explained, it would be beneficial to bring the relevant bodies together to talk over ideas.
A final report will detail any new practices that are developed out of these discussions, as well as successful strategies that were already established. It will also provide some general guidance on approaching issues of poverty. The document could then be used by other schools, Ms Spencer said.
The project is part of a wider plan to tackle disadvantage in Glasgow. The city has a Poverty Leadership Panel, co-chaired by council leader Gordon Matheson and community activist Ghazala Hakeem. Panel members include representatives from the Glasgow Housing Association, the National Health Service and the Third Sector Forum, among others.
David McNulty, headteacher at Avenue End Primary, said: "We are excited to be taking part in the Cost of the School Day project and believe the results of the research will be of great value to us and all schools in Glasgow, as we continually strive to provide the best possible education for our children and young people."
He added that the school was already looking at ways to overcome barriers to learning among its pupils, for example with early-morning computer classes.
City councillor Stephen Curran, executive member for education and young people, said: "We are very much looking forward to finding out any insights that could help us make the school day more accessible for poorer children and families."