"It's a 'free education', but it's not really free."
(School pupil in England)
Child Poverty Action Group and Children North East have published, The Cost of the School Day in England: Pupils' Perspectives | CPAG. The report summarises research carried out so far in schools in England through their UK Cost of the School Day project. Explore their key findings and recommendations here.
Having spoken in-depth with over 4,500 pupils, the report highlights the most common insights about school costs in England, including expensive trips, costly music and arts classes, stigma related to clothes and mobile phones, and more. The research shows how poverty impedes the opportunities children are able to access, but it also celebrates the great work of schools in England trying to ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate and succeed. Filled with the words of children and young people, the report provides an important moment for all those who are interested in equal opportunities for children and young people and levelling-up education to listen and respond.
Key report findings
Curriculum and learning
- Families are often expected to own learning resources including stationery, textbooks and IT equipment for use both at home and at school.
Pupils experiencing poverty in England are financially excluded from full participation in a wide range of school subjects and activities, including PE, music, swimming and art and design.
Costs associated with resources and equipment can be a factor in pupils' subject choices in secondary school, with food technology and art and design reported as having significant costs.
Day-to-day practices in English schools often unintentionally draw attention to family incomes and make children feel embarrassed and different. These include expensive uniform policies, non-uniform days and requests from schools to bring in material possessions like pencil cases.
Many fun and special events at school, which other children look forward to, including trips, fundraising activities, celebrations and community events, are often out of reach for children in poverty. They can also cause great anxiety and financial and social pressures.
Families are borrowing money to pay for school activities like school trips, not wanting children to lose out on these valuable learning opportunities.
Many children in low-income households are missing out on the benefits of a school lunch due to the restrictive eligibility criteria for free school meals, the cost of school lunches, and issues with payment procedures including the resolution of lunch money debt.
Challenges with school food systems and policies mean that not all children get a sufficient and balanced meal during the school day, leaving them feeling hungry and worrying about food.
Policies and practices relating to food in school often mean that children experiencing poverty don’t have the same options as their peers at lunchtime.
Key recommendations for government
As an overarching aim, we are calling on the UK government and Department for Education to recognise the impact that school-related costs have on children’s ability to learn. We implore them to prioritise funding schools properly so they can offer a truly free and inclusive education, where every pupil can fully participate in school activities without cost barriers.
Urgent steps towards this include:
- Provide adequate funding to schools to ensure all curriculum-related costs are removed for pupils. This must include investment that guarantees all children have the resources and tools they need to fully participate in school activities both at home and at school e.g., revision guides and laptops.
- Provide local authorities with additional funding and a statutory responsibility to help families with school costs through targeted initiatives such as school clothing grants and subsidies for trips. Initiatives like this already exist in all other UK nations.
- Provide universal free school meals to school-aged children in England so that all pupils have equitable access to food while at school.
- Provide a statutory framework, strategy and additional ring-fenced funding so schools in England can provide programmes, activities and services that go beyond the core function of classroom education, such as breakfast and after-school clubs.
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