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KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 08-Oct-13 12:33:39

Save the Children: "The gap between rich and poor starts as soon as UK children get to school"

A new report by Save The Children finds that poor children who are behind in the 'three Rs' at the age of seven will probably never catch up with their richer peers.

Here William Higham, Save the Children's director of UK poverty, explains why the charity is calling for a tripling of the 'pupil premium' to help redress the balance. But what do you think should be done to prevent children's futures being determined by their birth?

William Higham

Director of UK poverty, Save The Children

Posted on: Tue 08-Oct-13 12:33:39


Lead photo

Poorer children's life chances are determined by age seven, says Save The Children

Last month, I dropped my daughter off at school for her first day of Year One. It felt like a big moment. It was her first day of real school, the beginning of the most exciting journey she will ever go on.

That journey is harder for some children than others. For the UK’s poorest children, the first few years of school aren’t their first steps on a road of discovery, but their last chance to keep up with their richer counterparts.

Too Young To Fail, Save the Children’s new report into the effects of poverty in the UK, looks at why poorer children do worse at school that their better off classmates and reveals a shocking fact: that by age seven, we can tell which children will do well in their GSCEs and which will not. The poorest children are likely to do worse. The conclusion is inescapable: poverty holds back children’s life chances, and the gap between rich and poor starts as soon as children get to school.

Despite progress from both this government and the last, we’re still failing too many children too young. In fact, unless we do something urgently, half a million seven year olds – today’s newborn babies - will behind in their reading and writing by 2020.

But there is good news too. We know that with the right help at the right time, we can help poor children catch up. Seven is not too late to turn things round, and we’re already rolling out programmes to help close the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor.

We know it’s not easy, especially when times are hard. We’ve just surveyed parents of young children around the country. All parents, regardless of how much they earn, knew the importance of education. However, we found that parents earning under £17,000 a year were cutting back in large numbers on enriching activities like music lessons and school trips that we know can make a difference.

The conclusion is inescapable: poverty holds back children's life chances, and the gap between rich and poor starts as soon as children get to school.

And it’s not just affecting the poorest. Those on incomes the next level up, the kind of salaries you’d expect for teachers, nurses or midwives, are facing a double squeeze on time and money. They are working longer hours that make is harder to spend time with their families and they are also cutting back on educational activities by nearly as much as the poorest group.

That is not to say that these parents – whether time poor and cash poor- are bad parents. In fact, families facing financial challenges can be the most creative in helping their children learn. One family I met were so desperate to keep their children in school after losing their home that they spent three hours a day on the train, doing homework together, trying to turn a desperate situation for their family into an advantage for their children. They are not alone. Families all over the country are juggling time and money to get the best for their children. When they realise they are not alone it’s like watching a weight being lifted from them.

That’s why we make sure our programmes bring families together with schools to support their children’s education together. Families that meet at our programmes often form childcare networks, swap advice, even share lifts to the supermarket to save money on petrol. By bringing communities together, we can help make sure the poorest children aren’t left behind.

We're urging people across the country to support our work. We're aiming to recruit 20,000 ‘change makers’ over the next four years who will help us reach children in their first chapters of life, giving them a better chance of fulfilling their potential.

But we also want all political parties to do more. We are calling on the government to immediately allocate an additional £1000 “fair chances premium” for children aged five, six and seven who are falling behind and to triple the pupil premium to between £3,000 - £4,000 for every eligible primary school pupil by 2020. We want all political parties to pledge to ensure that every child leaves primary school with a good education, including being a confident reader.

Last week I was at a school in Salford visiting a volunteer reading scheme that we are rolling out around the country. I met Mackenzie and Loreal, two seven year olds brimming with enthusiasm to show off their new reading skills. Both had spent time over the last year with a volunteer, reading one-to-one. That time and focus had changed their stories - now we need to give the same opportunity to every child who falls behind.

That’s why we’re rolling out more programmes than ever before to give every child a fair start in life. Over the next few years we’ll work with tens of thousands of children. But it’s only a small part of what’s needed. We know parents have more enough on their plates with their own kids, but by spreading the word to others we can get the community action we need- from parents, volunteers, and politicians - to make sure that no child starts their journey carrying the burden of poverty on their shoulders.

Tell us what you think about the latest research on the thread. Is an increased pupil premium the answer - or are there other ways to ensure that children start from a level playing field?

By William Higham

Twitter: @savechildrenuk

Alibabaandthe40nappies Thu 10-Oct-13 11:31:02

This entirely misses the point which is that you can't fix crappy parenting.

I would take issue with the statement All parents, regardless of how much they earn, knew the importance of education. I don't think this is the case at all.

We live in a relatively affluent area. High employment, lots of SAHPs through choice. The primary schools are universally good - all 2s with the occasional 1 at Ofsted.

Standing outside my son's Y1 classroom at pick up time last week, one mother commented to her friend 'I don't even know the name of the teacher, haha!'. Her friend said 'oh it is Mrs X' (who is actually the TA but better than nothing).
That woman's daughter didn't have her book bag with her once last week (I know this because I help out with reading in class). She never reads at home, her reading journal is empty except for entries made in school. She is often absent, random days here and there.
This poor child has no chance, because her parents clearly don't give a shit about her education. Yesterday I was behind them walking out of the playground. The girl's school shoes were broken and falling off her feet. She asked her Mum if they could go and get some new ones 'no I haven't got any fucking money have I' she said, while puffing on her cigarette and climbing into her (admittedly battered) BMW convertible.

No amount of money thrown at school is going to help that poor girl.

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 11:31:47

I don't actually think money is the issue. Attitudes and pre-conceptions are.

A Middle Class lifestyle is seen as aspirational and as long as it is seen as such, everything that goes along with it, including educational success, tends to be attached to the Middle Classes.

Pouring money onto a situation does not change this. I actually think that taking the pressure off the education system, having more equal funding policies that are not attached to attainment or poverty would help and less assessment would help.

I am aware that this is counter intuitive, but I think it is the over pressured environment that encourages people within the teaching profession to 'cheat the system', in order to gain more funding, which in turn only perpetuates these prejudices.

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 11:46:13

^ I don't like the idea that schools should not have to be 'compensated' for their intake being 'poor'. To my mind this is a form of prejudice, I suppose some term it 'positive discrimination'. I prefer an equal playing field but one which is inclusive and by nature does not bar any sector of the community from the outset, rather than just lobbing a load of money at the 'poor'.

CreatureRetorts Thu 10-Oct-13 11:47:26

Those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds - I'm assuming they're less likely to have all the extras. Plus worrying about food etc probably means school is seen as a luxury.

I grew up in a poor household - some days I didn't have bus fare to get in to school.

gazzalw Thu 10-Oct-13 11:47:31

At DD's primary there are plenty of children on the low-achieving tables whose mothers seem to have latest 'must-have' bags/shoes everything else. Strangely enough, even though they have money for personal embellishments they are the same parents whose DCs never ever go on the residential school trips which might enhance their children's wider social educationhmm

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 11:52:42

If an education is 'child centred' and inclusive and genuinely caters for an individual intake, why would that mean more funds are needed?

Surely children should just make good progress form their own starting points and not have to conform to any particular manufactured standard.

It is attaching the standards and arguing about them, in the first place that is at fault. This is where people start to attempt to 'cheat' the figures and in order for this to be believable the old 'blame game' begins which seems to perpetuate beliefs concerning our class system.

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 11:57:04

At DD's primary there are plenty of children on the low-achieving tables whose mothers seem to have latest 'must-have' bags/shoes everything else. Strangely enough, even though they have money for personal embellishments they are the same parents whose DCs never ever go on the residential school trips which might enhance their children's wider social education

Education is also supposed to be free. It should not matter whether parents will make voluntary contributions. Go on free trips around the local area, if the teaching is good, it will be worth while. Education does not have to be all 'bells and whistles'.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 12:58:30

if you're not managing to teach children to read and write effectively in primary school with 6hrs a day and what 6yrs? at your disposal you are doing something wrong that will only be fixed by facing what that is and remedying it - not by throwing money in. yes i know there are exceptions but those exceptions should have nothing to do with class and money unless you are expecting parents to teach the skills that you're failing to teach with all of the time, professional expertise and resources at your disposal.

it's not about the money it's about the reliance on parents to teach what schools used to manage to teach and when you do rely on parents then of course children of less literate or less motivated or ground down by poverty and depression or just plain naff parents aren't going to do well.

we don't need to throw more money we need to find a way back to teachers teaching kids to read and write and do maths instead of fannying about with all the fun right on stuff.

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 13:43:53

Just realised my glaring typo. My earlier 11.46 post should read "I don't like the idea schools should have to be 'compensated' for their intake being 'poor'."

This is because I do believe 'poor' children have as much potential as any other children. However for it not to remain locked away their education should suit their needs not some external manufactured 'standard'.

Schools should genuinely adapt more to their intake, encourage the children by building on their own interests and experiences and not rely on their parents to fill in the gaps. So less homework, trips or workshops which require monetary contributions, lessons which 'require volunteers', bought in schemes, assessment tracking software, fingerprint recognition systems and bought in curriculums and more professional expertise, teachers who can work genuinely to differentiate and tailor lessons to their intake. I think this is far more valuable than assessments and standards and extra funding for sectors of the population.

DavidYoung Thu 10-Oct-13 13:59:03

The solution to almost everything that is wrong with the taxpayer-funded part of children's education has been known for decades. Its only opponents have been teachers on practically indestructible contracts.


Deregulate the whole of education and you remove the postcode lottery, state interference, and everything else that a school's PTA doesn't want. You also see a significant reduction in the cost, as can be expected from a free market.

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 14:10:46

Interesting idea.....DavidYoung

However I also believe that a child should expect to be able to attend a school which is local to them, within walking distance. How much of a free market will this mean there is?

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 15:44:59

it wouldn't be of course - you'd have the same competition for places and unofficial selection to cream off the best parents children and the wrong sort of parent next to the right kind of schools would be forced to travel miles and miles to get a place.

the only way a free market operates is through their being enough supply to make competition realistic. there aren't enough school places let alone enough near enough to walk to to have real competition.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 15:45:31

there not their sorry - i'm losing it lately on the literacy front.

DavidYoung Fri 11-Oct-13 12:04:37

In a deregulated market, anyone who reckons they know how to run a school could set one up. They would answer to their customers, as a combination of their vouchers and whatever additional fees they charge would only continue to enter their business's bank account if they were able to persuade them not to go somewhere else.

Someone somewhere would be offering the bare-bones, cheapest school within walking distance, because they have found a way to do so and still make enough of a profit out of it to put bread on the table.

Someone else would be charging slightly more with the sales pitch of 'Look, if you send your kids to us, we'll pay for a remedial teacher for the children with the irresponsible parents so the rest of the class aren't held back'.

Someone else would be saying 'We're the most expensive in your neck of the woods, but look how many dressage champions we turn out!'.

A large number of parents looking for a school in their area which they can order about as they see fit looks like a market to me. Deregulate, and people will offer services in that market in exchange for anything that gives them an income.

brambleandapple Fri 11-Oct-13 14:02:00

DavidYoung You're not selling the idea to me I'm afraid.

swallowedAfly Sat 12-Oct-13 09:42:46

'a remedial teacher for the children with the irresponsible parents' <<you're not making friends david.

Spottybra Sat 12-Oct-13 12:18:13

It would appear that the solution lies not with more money but with our current system and government.

Able children should be grouped together and deserve not to have lessons disrupted. IMO the school day is far too long, especially for Foundation and KS1. Schools are there to educate and not babysit.

Those who disrupt should be given one chance in the morning and one chance in the afternoon to join their peers or receive tuition in a group with more TA's available to control and direct them. Their day should be longer because they need longer to settle and learn.

FSM are not any indication of a child's home life or ability or parental attitudes.

Personally I think Gove, Ofsted and SATs should all head the same way to never be seen again, year 7's should return to primary as 11 is too young and the 11+ exam brought back nationally. There is absolutely nothing wrong with vocational courses, speaking as someone whose genius IQ nephew has chosen a mixture of academic and vocational gcse courses because he struggles with dyslexia.

Education needs reform, but not academies and business.

brambleandapple Sat 12-Oct-13 12:25:48

Not an inclusionist then Spottybra? Children with poorly managed AN, SN or SEN do not deserve to be taught by teachers, should be just controlled and directed by TAs?

Spottybra Sat 12-Oct-13 12:46:02

No, they should have a teacher, I just meant the ta's should be there too.

swallowedAfly Sat 12-Oct-13 13:07:16

able v disruptive? is that how you see inclusion and the breadth of educational needs then? dividable into these two groups?

Romibanana Sun 13-Oct-13 11:54:44

Totally agree with your point.
I am of similar example, our family never had much but somehow my parents always managed to hammer in my head that education is important. I left Czech rep when I was 18 and have done reasonable well here in the UK!
All through my own persistence, endurance and motivation! Qualities we as parents should be teaching our children regardless of our class status!

swallowedAfly Sun 13-Oct-13 15:41:00

because of course the only thing that determines how well a child will do at school is their, 'persistence, endurance and motivation!'.

sturdyoak Sun 13-Oct-13 15:53:59

'persistence, endurance and motivation!'.

I think you definitely need these qualities. However it is not all you need. You need to know where and how to put your efforts to best use. You need an education system that does not present barriers to certain children. This is one which does not rely on parental support. For example, some parents are not able to practise reading with their children (may have literacy issues themselves), some homes do not have a quiet area to study in.

DavidYoung Mon 14-Oct-13 09:21:29

If you want to keep some sort of education department in your government, then what you personally think is the best way to run a school amounts to hardly anything. The system will change with every new administration.

Remove government from the equation and you have more say in the matter.

Incidentally, can someone tell me what a remedial teacher in a mainstream school does that cannot be better achieved with more responsible parenting?

sturdyoak Mon 14-Oct-13 10:40:38

Incidentally, can someone tell me what a remedial teacher in a mainstream school does that cannot be better achieved with more responsible parenting?

So a teacher's expertise counts for nothing?

If a teacher is supposed to teach and a parent supposed to parent and a child is not achieving in the the educational sense, where does the responsibility lie?

If a child has a medically recognised condition, which presents some barriers to learning, does it take merely more responsible parenting to solve this?

If a child's parents, with the best will in the world, cannot offer support to a school, due to their own responsibilities in society, does that child still deserve a good education?

Remove government from the equation and you have more say in the matter.

Are you an anarchist?

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