We recently surveyed parents about support from schools for families who have money worries. We did not expect the amount of detail, thought and care that went into their responses.
We received almost 400, with parents describing heartbreaking feelings of exclusion and isolation because of their financial situations. One wrote: “I want to find out what help is available but I am too embarrassed to ask.”
Another said: “I can’t afford the bus to the sports club, then the fees. I can’t afford anything. I don’t have a babysitter to go to meetings. Having, or attending, birthday parties isn’t possible, nor are holidays. My child is forced into awareness of us having zero finances with no way out.”
There are many ways in which children are affected if money is short, and they all impact on how well they do at school. It will inevitably be harmful if a child is unable to take part in activities or clubs, can’t attend fun events or go on trips, is living in unsuitable accommodation or doesn’t have good food inside them.
The clear link to how children’s learning is affected makes this an issue for both schools and parent groups – we share a responsibility for supporting children’s learning.
Parents also told us about the constant requests for money by schools and from fundraisers. But people also shared examples of and good ideas for creating more inclusive school communities.
These ideas showed how much parents care about others’ struggles – and how much more school communities could be doing so that all children and families can take part fully in school life.
Suggestions include uniform swap shops, providing spare PE kits, extra pens/pencils/rulers, spare fancy dress for themed days, free activities funded by sponsorship, food banks in schools, computers and washing machines available for parents in schools, support and advice sessions, and much more.
We have included all these ideas in our report (bit.ly/ConnectPVpoverty). Many are practical steps that school communities can easily take.
There was a strong sense of indignation that children and young people were sometimes disciplined for inadequate uniform or lack of equipment, or for being late, when actually these might be signs of family problems that children and young people couldn’t do anything about.
Our survey also showed that the right support can make a difference to learning and engagement with the school community: 37 per cent of those who had received help said that their child’s relationship with their peers had improved; 24 per cent said their physical and/or mental health had improved; and 18 per cent said their attendance at school had improved.
These are small steps – but they are improvements in the lives of children.
Eileen Prior is executive director of Connect (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council)