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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

sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 13:19:57

DavidYoung I am curious, what has brought you to this viewpoint, how is it informed?

I believe, whilst we may not know all there is to know concerning mental health and illness, there are certainly psychological symptoms, which can be observed. Unfortunately, people who may want to capitalise on this, can cloud the validity of diagnosis somewhat.

What remains though, is people who need help, people who recover with help and granted, some that recover without help. However some don't recover, some of them become severely disturbed and go on to harm themselves or others, which I would hope you would want to prevent.

So what do you think should be done?

HorryIsUpduffed Wed 16-Oct-13 13:18:26

Um, leaving aside how grossly offensive it is for you to use the phrase "so-called mental illness" and patronising inverted commas all over the place...

... if a child with a diagnosis does not respond to interventions that work for children without that diagnosis, but does respond to strategies that work for other children with a similar diagnosis, then that at the very least proves the efficacy of the alternative strategy for those children presenting with the same symptoms?

I really don't give a shiny shit whether a diagnosis is empirically provable or not, if said diagnosis allows the patient to access help and make progress.

Saying "you can't have any help because your problem is qualitative" is cuntery.

DavidYoung Wed 16-Oct-13 12:53:24

Neural imaging has never been used to provide any falsifiable definition of a so-called mental illness. A mental illness is, and has always been, defined as nothing more than a list of alleged symptoms.

There will always be parents who believe in the mental-health myth and there will usually be some who see through it, in much the same way that there will probably always be some parents who believe in demon possession or that their children's poor performance at school is due to 'all these foreigners practising their voodoo, I mean you don't know what they get up to behind closed doors, do you?'.

Complete deregulation means that each group can squabble among themselves as to what should go on inside their schools. The one thing they would all have in common is that none of them would be complaining about incompetent government bureaucrats interfering in their children's education.

And of course if at some stage the shrink-obsessed school genuinely comes up with something that has demonstrably beneficial results, the sceptical parents may well say 'I have seen the light! I'll send my children to your school instead.'

The rest is just market forces.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 11:48:54

david you're wrong. five minutes on google would show you. neural imaging would be a good starting point.

sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 11:45:11

DavidYoung So what do you suggest should happen concerning people who are suffering psychologically, to such an extent, it is likely they will harm themselves or others?

DavidYoung Wed 16-Oct-13 11:40:34

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 11:06:37

DavidYoung I only hope you are not singing this when you are old.


sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 10:44:25


It was once fashionable to diagnose a woman who refused to accept the authority of her husband as suffering from the mental illness of hysteria. It isn't fashionable now.

I acknowledge there have been abuses suffered in the name of psychiatry and I acknowledge the controversy surrounding the over medicalisation of some psychological issues. I am aware of Foucault's views, for example, regarding the disturbing relationship between power and being deemed qualified to label somebody as insane. The link I made to another MN thread earlier does indeed show how some capitalise on other's difficulties. So I agree not all is 'clear-cut'.

However if somebody is genuinely suffering I also believe that people must do all that is within their power to help. A lot of people with psychological issues do feel helped by medical practitioners. As I asked before, would you leave these people to flounder?

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 10:30:45

incidentally though karl popper's falsification theory is but one epistemological theory. you seem overly reliant on it.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 10:29:34

i was off tracking down evidence to discount your out of date views and then i realised your post will be deleting in a moment for repeating your deleted post which you've already been told was offensive and unacceptable on this site.

DavidYoung Wed 16-Oct-13 10:17:28

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 09:01:29

have been reflecting on the above and clearly it's not about money is it?

you can, as i was, be massively skint in societies terms yet not be impoverished in the sense they're talking about. skint with a good education behind you and genuine concern for your child's development does not result in the kind of issues being presented. likewise having no education and no concern for your child's welfare but having a fair bit of cash probably would result in these outcomes.

the focus on 'money' as the common denominator is though the obvious thing to point at if you're a charity and rely on 'give us your money and we'll fix the world' publicity.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 08:30:57

tbh i was living on about 12k all in when ds started school and again i didn't feel like we were in 'poverty'. <wanders off wondering if i'm so used to being poor now i don't even notice...>

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 08:28:50

likewise 17k sounds a lot to me. that's just above my current household income and ds and i went to egypt this summer. i choose not to run a car which probably helps but i really wouldn't consider myself and ds impoverished or his educational development hampered confused

VelvetStrider Wed 16-Oct-13 08:08:57

I'm confused as to how an income of £17,000 constitutes 'poverty'. confused Some years that is roughly our income, and it provides more than enough for good food, after school clubs, holidays (UK), two cars, household necessities and a few luxuries. The only reason I can think of as to why this wouldn't be enough for most families is that housing is too expensive - that's the crux of the financial aspects of this issue.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 06:20:05

just seen i've been deleted - not sure why as i thought i had talked generally about life rather than personally insulted david.

just so it's really clear i wasn't deleted for insulting children with or parents of children with special needs. i must have insulted david unwittingly.

KateSMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Oct-13 16:13:16


We welcome robust debate, but we do think it's beyond the pale to insult children with additional needs and their parents. Our page busting the myth around [[ but we think it's beyond the pale to insult children with additional needs and their parents behavioural disorders]] can provide more information on this topic.

sturdyoak Tue 15-Oct-13 14:07:54

DavidYoung Your views seem so off the wall, I'm curious. What do you actually care about, hold dear?

sturdyoak Tue 15-Oct-13 13:52:57

DavidYoung I think you might have confused being sceptical with becoming septic!

sturdyoak Tue 15-Oct-13 13:49:23

Added to this I am no sceptic. Belief is an important part of life, without assumptions we cannot function or progress.

sturdyoak Tue 15-Oct-13 13:43:17

DavidYoung There is a body of research on this subject. I included one article just as an example.

The research is informative because it does throw up questions concerning differing people's coping abilities.

'Walking in other peoples shoes', is used as an expression to highlight the wisdom in compassion, Epistemic Humility if you like. I agree it is not likely a person will know, or have experienced everything there is to know about another.

However, unlike yourself it would seem, I feel this only highlights the validity in being merciful regarding judgements, rather than harsh. Added to this there are enough people out there, for whom mental illness is a very real and frightening experience for it to be worth giving them consideration.

Why do you think it is justifiable to leave these people to flounder?

DavidYoung Tue 15-Oct-13 13:21:08

Richard Hunter's research falls far short of a falsifiable definition of even one mental illness.

I would suggest that scepticism is a more healthy attitude to adopt towards something which is so uncritically accepted by both education and health departments, especially where even a meaningful definition cannot be found.

Incidentally, your argument can be and, whether you like it or not, is applied both ways. Nobody needs to believe the claims of someone allegedly suffering from a mental illness until they themselves have experienced exactly the same life circumstances. That does of course mean that you will have fewer people, and not more, regarding mental illness as something real.

That would be an interesting phenomenon to observe: a Member of Parliament being petitioned by parents of 'special-needs' children for some form of legislative change replying with 'I had no personal experience of being a special-needs child when I was at school, nor do I have any personal experience of mental illness. For that reason, I will abstain from any vote on the subject in parliament.' I take it you would agree with such a stance.

sturdyoak Tue 15-Oct-13 11:09:04


Here you go DavidYoung some reading.

sturdyoak Tue 15-Oct-13 11:04:56

DavidYoung Maybe the the lazy badly behaved child could actually legitimately receive a diagnosis of ADHD.

As I have said there is a lot we do not know concerning brain physiology.

Have you read any of the Epigenetic research which shows changes at a genetic level, lasting 2 and 3 generations when a person has been subjected to a particular environment? Post traumatic stress disorder was one of the conditions where this was noted.

This would suggest people can have certain pre-dispositions towards a certain mental state but that also environment can subsequently effect this state, negatively or positively.

So we should offer compassion to those that are suffering, people genuinely come from different starting points. Until you have genuinely 'walked in their shoes' you simply are not qualified to blame them for their present state. Equally writing their cause off as hopeless, simply 'will not do' either.

DavidYoung Tue 15-Oct-13 10:41:57

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