Have you ever talked about poverty in your classroom?
You are not alone if the answer is no. A recent report by the Children’s Society says that although more than 3.5 million children in the UK are living in poverty, young voices are largely absent from debate about the issue.
Perhaps this is understandable, given the sensitivity of the topic, particularly in schools where students come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
That’s one reason why the Children’s Commission on Poverty was set up. Sixteen young commissioners aged 10-19 led an inquiry into what poverty means for UK children and presented their findings to MPs earlier this month. However, the people the young commissioners really want to reach are their own peers – and that means getting the message into classrooms.
“There is an assumption that poverty ends at school, but unfortunately that is not the case,” says Gulwali, one of the young commissioners. “People should realise that poverty exists and we need to take action to reduce it and do our bit to make the world a better place.”
Teaching resources produced by the Children’s Society are a good place to start. These are free to download and can be used to approach the topic of poverty in a way that is sensitive and accessible to all, without making any child feel singled out or uncomfortable.
The thinking is that by getting children to think about how poverty affects the lives of young people, teachers can encourage empathy and reduce feelings of alienation among students who receive free school meals or are on the pupil premium register.
The commission found that a quarter of children living in poverty are bullied, for not having the right uniform, for being unable to complete homework without a home computer or for missing out on a school trip. Two-thirds felt they fell behind at school because of costs.
Poverty might be an uncomfortable topic, but the report says that doesn’t mean teachers should shy away from it. On the contrary, it suggests that a more open dialogue about poverty will go a long way towards eliminating the stigma and embarrassment experienced by the poorest members of your class.
You can download the Children’s Commission on Poverty resources from the TES website, or visit the Children’s Commission on Poverty website to meet the young commissioners and find out more about their recommendations.