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«The impact of poverty on young children’s experience of school Goretti Horgan This report explores how disadvantage affects children’s experience ...»

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The impact of poverty on young children’s experience of


Goretti Horgan

This report explores how disadvantage affects children’s experience of

primary school education.

Improving educational attainment is vital if the goal of eradicating child poverty

in a generation is to be met, but children growing up in poverty are rarely asked

how this impacts on their school life. This study focuses on:

n what children themselves think about school

n how important education is to them n what children know about the hidden costs of education, and n how they experience school.

It looks at what conversations reveal about the impact of poverty on their school lives, as well as describing the different experiences of those living in poorer and better-off circumstances.

The researcher interviewed 220 children aged four to eleven in advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Northern Ireland, and talked to parents and teachers.

This research will be of interest to policymakers, researchers, teachers and students interested in child poverty or education.

This publication can be provided in other formats, such as

large print, Braille and audio. Please contact:

Communications, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO30 6WP.

Tel: 01904 615905. Email: info@jrf.org.uk The impact of poverty on young children’s experience of school Goretti Horgan The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has supported this project as part of its programme of research and innovative development projects, which it hopes will be of value to policymakers, practitioners and service users. The facts presented and views expressed in this report are, however, those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO30 6WP Website: www.jrf.org.uk The research on which this publication was based was made possible by grants from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children.

About the author Goretti Horgan is a Research Fellow in Policy Studies at the University of Ulster.

© University of Ulster, 2007 First published 2007 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation All rights reserved. Reproduction of this report by photocopying or electronic means for non-commercial purposes is permitted. Otherwise, no part of this report may be reproduced, adapted, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise without the prior written permission of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

ISBN: 978 1 85935 604 3 A CIP catalogue record for this report is available from the British Library.

Prepared by:

York Publishing Services Ltd 64 Hallfield Road Layerthorpe York YO31 7ZQ Tel: 01904 430033; Fax: 01904 430868; Website: www.yps-publishing.co.uk Further copies of this report, or any other JRF publication, can be obtained from the JRF website (www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/).

Contents Acknowledgements vii Summary

–  –  –

vi Acknowledgements This report is the result of research funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) as part of its Education and Poverty Programme. I am extremely grateful to JRF for this funding and to Helen Barnard who guided the project on behalf of the Foundation and who provided enthusiastic support throughout. Thanks also to Save the Children, who provided additional funding allowing the study to include rural schools. Thanks to all the children who took part in the study; this report would have been impossible without their co-operation. Thanks also to the incredibly busy head teachers who made more work for themselves by allowing access to their schools – and to the parents who agreed to be interviewed.

I benefited throughout the research from an advisory group: Helen Beckett, Anne Crowley, Berni Kelly, Rosemary Kilpatrick, Marina Monteith, J.S. O’Connor, Mary Potter and Alex Tennant. My thanks to them for giving freely of their time and for their constructive criticism.

vii Summary This report is about the impact of poverty on children’s experience of primary school.

It focuses on: what children themselves think about school; how important education is to them; how children think schools work; and how they experience school. It offers a chance to look at life in primary schools from a child-centred perspective. It looks at what conversations reveal about the impact of poverty on their school lives, as well as about the different experiences of those living in poorer and better-off circumstances. It also includes the views of parents and head teachers.

What emerges from this study is a picture of children’s school experiences that are shaped by their family background and the area in which they live. The children’s views demonstrate that how children experience school is determined by the level of disadvantage they face. They suggest that poorer children get used to the fact of their social position from a very early age. They accept that this will be reflected in their experience of school – that they are not going to get the same quality of schooling or of outcomes as better-off children.

In all, 220 children aged five to 11 took part in group interviews in 15 schools – Catholic, Protestant and integrated, advantaged and disadvantaged, urban and rural – across Northern Ireland. Disadvantaged schools were those with between half and three-quarters of their pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSMs), while advantaged schools had between 3 and 14 per cent of their pupils eligible for FSMs.

Attitudes to education

The study found that children from all types of schools agreed that education is important. Younger children were more likely to think that school is fun, while older children were more likely to see school as a way of getting an education in order to get a good job. Older children in disadvantaged schools were less likely to describe learning as fun than older children in advantaged schools. Children demonstrated a desire to be more involved in directing their own learning and to have more ‘learning by doing’. In the advantaged schools, children saw education as a way of ensuring a good life as an adult. Children in disadvantaged schools were more likely to view education as a way of avoiding problems in the future. All the children, whatever the school they attended, had relatively high aspirations for their futures, although children from advantaged schools were considerably more likely to aspire to a highpaying professional job.

viii Summary There is clear evidence of boys as young as nine or ten becoming very disenchanted with school and starting to disengage. The evidence from this study points towards the interaction of educational disadvantage faced by children growing up in poverty, the difficulties faced by teachers in disadvantaged schools, and differences in the way boys and girls are socialised, leading to boys being particularly failed by the education system.

Worries about school

The children worried a lot about testing generally and the Eleven Plus (which remains in place in Northern Ireland at least until the end of November 2008) in particular. Children in the advantaged schools were considerably more likely to be worried about the Eleven Plus. They were more likely to be under pressure from parents to do well in the test and to think that how they did in the test would have implications for the rest of their lives.

All the children worried about a range of issues but only children in the most disadvantaged schools worried about being beaten up on the way to and from school, and about their school being vandalised. Children and parents shared views about the real costs of schooling. Both saw school dinners, uniforms and school trips as the biggest costs associated with school. Children in disadvantaged schools were considerably more aware of all the costs associated with school and of the difficulties parents face in meeting those costs. Such children clearly worried about asking parents for even small amounts of money, such as the 50p or £1 that is usually charged by schools for no-uniform day.

Cost of schooling

Despite government policy towards keeping the cost of primary school uniforms as low as possible, they remain an unwelcome expense. When schools adopt an inflexible attitude to uniforms, they can exacerbate the social exclusion faced by children from families living in poverty. School trips also proved expensive and, while most families could find the money for trips during school hours, residential trips, particularly those outside Northern Ireland, were seen as too expensive by all the parents interviewed, even those who are relatively well off.

As an interim measure, extending uniform grants to primary schoolchildren is urgently required. And the question of the cost of school trips for children whose

–  –  –

families depend on benefits or who receive in-work tax credits must also be addressed. But the findings presented here suggest that part of the fight against child poverty and its impact on children and their education should be the introduction of the ‘Free School Day’ proposed by the children in Bread is Free (Willow, 2001). This policy would mean that education would be really free, with no family having to worry about the cost of any item a child needs to attend school and participate fully in every aspect of school life.

Overall, this study suggests that poverty impacts considerably on children’s experience of primary schooling. It indicates that the children growing up in families with very low incomes are disadvantaged because of the lack of income. But, as the older children in this study understood, the more money a family has, they spend relatively less on education and their children are more likely to be able to enjoy a rounded education. For children from families living in poverty, their understanding and experience of school is narrower and they cannot be sure of having a good education.

x 1 Introduction Motivation/rationale This report is about the impact of poverty on children’s experience of primary school.

It focuses on: what children themselves think about school; how important education is to them; the impact of advantage/disadvantage on how children think schools work;

and how they experience school. It offers a chance to look at life in primary schools from a child-centred perspective.

The role of education in providing a route out of poverty has been well established and is at the centre of many of New Labour’s policies to end child poverty. Gregg and Machin (2000) examined data for two birth cohorts, to explore the relationship between deprivation in childhood, educational attainment and later labour market performances. They concluded that disadvantages faced during childhood have a persistent (negative) association with the subsequent labour market success of individuals. In particular, they found that poor school attendance and growing up in a family in financial distress have more of an impact on economic success as an adult than family formation, e.g. lone parent or couple family.

Blanden and Gregg (2004) reviewed a wide range of literature and quantitative information about the relationship between family income, the adolescent’s decision to stay on in education beyond the age of 16 and his/her levels of educational attainment. Their research shows a consistent impact of family income on educational attainment in the UK, which has huge implications for inequalities in educational outcomes.

Research questions This report seeks to answer the following questions.

n We know that poverty impacts on the school lives of teenagers and leads them to exclude themselves from some school experiences (Ridge, 2002). To what extent, if at all, does poverty impact on the school experiences of younger children aged five to ten and at what age do the effects of poverty start to bite?

1The impact of poverty on young children’s experience of school

n We know that children from better-off families are more likely not to get into trouble at school, to stay on at school and to gain qualifications (Blanden and Gregg, 2004). Are there differences, even in primary school, in the school experiences of children living in low-income families and those living in better-off circumstances?

n Government has introduced a range of policies, discussed further below, to try to break the link between child poverty and educational disadvantage. To what extent have these made a difference to the school experiences of children from families experiencing poverty?

n What recommendations for changes in policy and practice to alleviate the impact of poverty on children’s school lives can be developed based on the views of children, parents and teachers who participated in the study?

Scope of research The Labour Government’s policy commitments on child poverty have seen measures to support education, including Early Years education. The Government has also committed itself to involving children and young people in decision making, particularly in relation to education. Yet, it is still the case that little is known about the extent to which children are aware of the impact of poverty on their education. We have little understanding of how children from families living in poverty experience school, as opposed to children from better-off families. As Tess Ridge (2002) points out, we know little about how growing up in poverty affects children’s relationships with schoolmates and with teachers or ‘the problems of social inclusion facing poor children themselves’.

Ridge talked to children and young people aged ten to 17 and found that children living in low-income families were more likely to be socially excluded, or to exclude themselves, within school. They expressed concerns about having the right clothes, particularly for non-uniform days. Even with school uniforms, they were concerned about having the ‘right’ shoes or trainers. Many young people whose families lived in poverty were unable to participate fully in school life, because their parents simply could not afford it.

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