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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

Sparrowp Wed 09-Oct-13 12:48:02

My greatest concern is that families are not able to provide for children.

This starts with young adults. We are seeing increasing impoverishment of young adults. Many cannot afford to save, they cannot buy a house or even rent one, salaries are getting worse, jobs are more unstable and hard to find, and living costs are rising.

When the entire salary goes on paying the rent, what is left over for raising a family? Nothing?

A single adult must be able to save and have spare income, so that when they meet the right person and settle down, the family has stability, savings and a decent income to meet the extra costs of raising children.

That is why we need more decent jobs. That is why we need to enable adults to buy (or rent) homes at reasonable prices.

And then families will be have the time and resources to read to their children, provide stimulating activities, and support children's development so that they are well prepared for school.

VelvetStrider Wed 09-Oct-13 13:18:15

I agree with Sparrowp - housing cost, whether rent or mortgage, is just so disproportionate to income compared to our parents generation. That means longer hours worked to pay for basic needs, and the knock-on effect of tired, stressed parents.

How is the 'fair chances premium' intended to work? If it will be spent on learning opportunities to support existing learning - extra-curricular reading clubs, music lessons etc., great! Peer-led activities to slowly change the culture of lack of motivation to learn in certain sectors of society - fantastic!

Spottybra Wed 09-Oct-13 13:40:59

There are so many factors in this that are unmentioned. Parental attitude and involvement, number of siblings, culture and subculture to name a few.

The only way is to take other environmental factors out which means no homework, no reading to be done at home and extracurricular activities based at the school.

I would suggest borrowing the boarding school practice of prep, and also flipped classroom learning that the children can access via the school website if a lesson needs to be remembered/reviewed/learnt as originally missed.

gazzalw Wed 09-Oct-13 17:13:12

I've always thought homework should be done at school too Spottybra! It would go some way to level the playing field.

I personally think the gap starts at conception rather than the start of the school years.....

JustinBsMum Wed 09-Oct-13 17:57:20

Wasn't there recently a study which found that some children were disadvantaged by the long school holidays. Where some children have an interesting and entertaining holiday which adds to their knowledge less fortunate children who perhaps receive less attention have reduced skills and knowledge after the holidays. So in those cases it's the home not the school makes the difference.

Thinking about it we were financially poor during most of my childhood and teens, but there was an unspoken assumption that we would go onto further education, and there were library books in the home and because I was in the top class in school was relatively bright. The lack of money possibly reduced my confidence to go out in the world and achieve but I did ok by most standards, having a good profession, but didn't think of being a CEO or running my own company, as no experience of that, so perhaps a rich home might have produced a more wealthy outcome.

jokebook Wed 09-Oct-13 18:13:46

The gap starts in the womb not school age....

HorryIsUpduffed Wed 09-Oct-13 18:16:04

I agree about the boarding school model.

The one I worked at (Y4-Y8) stopped lessons at 3.30ish, then fed the children a snack: milk/juice and cake or toast, typically - tempting but quickly burned off.

Then non-academic clubs such as music, drama, sport, chess, model making, etc, or free play running about like mad things on the field for a couple of hours.

Substantial supper, then an hour of supervised prep.

Evenings (ie from 7.30 to bedtime) in the boarding house strictly not academic - maybe a video, or a game, or swimming/rounders/tennis etc, weather permitting.

Primary school children need exercise and downtime as well as consolidation. Supervised prep works because it's in a supportive environment with staff available to help (although it might be an English teacher and a Maths prep grin ).

After-school clubs that let children play then give them quiet and space to read their book or do their sums or whatever it is could make a real difference particularly to those from the families Save The Children calls "time poor".

But I agree that the gulf is already yawning before school starts - the 3+ and 2+ EYFS funding tries to address it. Any scheme to address the balance is only ever catching up, not actually levelling the playing field.

lisad123everybodydancenow Wed 09-Oct-13 21:47:54

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MiniMonty Thu 10-Oct-13 01:42:00

Turns out that kids who qualify for free school meals are outstripping their counterparts academically.
Ho Hum.
An absolutely factual rebuttal to this piece of 'class war' propaganda.

MiniMonty Thu 10-Oct-13 01:46:09

Turns out that a hot lunch is more powerful than a trip to Florence, violin lessons or rugby on Sunday.

bronya Thu 10-Oct-13 05:53:07

In the schools I worked in, what FSM children missed out on, was parents who had a good education themselves, who read and wrote at home. It was those from the 'squeezed middle' who missed out in terms of school trips, music lessons, time with their parents (before and after school club, then holiday camps), homework and reading.

brettgirl2 Thu 10-Oct-13 07:15:28

I guess where the money helps is more one to one help at school. It's complex though, take reading at home it costs nothing but I expect some 'groups' of parents are statistically less likely to do it. Obviously most poor parents do but if yours don't then it puts you at major disadvantage.

I think kids often learn the most through free stuff, being outside, exploring and observing nature etc. As someone else said books are free.

Doubletroublemummy2 Thu 10-Oct-13 09:24:48

This is just an advert for a charity! "poor kids" get tonnes of free help and support. From School trips to meals. My childrens primary school has started a breakfast club, cost £2 per child, unless you are on free school meals, then it's free. Apparently the children attending have shown marked improvement in their engagment with school and literacy and numeracy scores have shown improvement. I don't consider my family to be poor, and the gov't certainly don't either but I don't have have an exrta £80 a month to allow my children to go and if I did they would have swimming lessons first.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 09:46:56

i know people hate the idea but i think the school day needs extending - no one to be forced to attend (re: if you want to pick your child up at 3.20 fine) but available to all who want/need it.

a play time, a snack, then homework club and/or extra curricular activities etc and finish at 5.20pm.

it would help the time poor and the money poor and the just plain living in the 21st century scrabbling for non existent spaces in after school care.

maybe not every day per child even - say a child can stay up to three days a week for example.

we really do need to move on.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 09:48:25

when you look at the size of the curriculum and what children are expected to learn by the age of 16 now compared to say 60 years ago and then look at the fact that the school day and the school year has stayed as tiny it has it's hardly surprising that standards drop and the basics aren't as well absorbed and embedded for life.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 09:55:23

oh and i want benefits for ALL children not this target the poor. improve things for all and provide things for all knowing that they'll be of the most benefit perhaps for the poorest.

personally i'd scrap FSM and put the money into subsidising cheap school meals for all.

I have been a single mother on benefits and yes, i definitely could have afforded to pay say £3.50 a week on school dinners for ds when i was actually getting them free. as it is i now work and ds has packed lunches because there's no way i can afford to pay £2 per day on a 6yo size portion meal. i don't quite understand who can afford to pay such a price.

if school dinners were compulsory and super cheap you could produce them cheaply and everyone would eat together. as i say i have lived on benefits as a single mum with no child maintenance etc and YES i could've afforded to pay £3.50pw

RueDeWakening Thu 10-Oct-13 09:56:49

Those on low incomes have access to free. Breakfast clubs, school lunch and free music lessons.

Really? We currently have a low income, DD receives FSM, as will DS1 when he starts next September. We are offered no other help, and certainly not free music lessons or breakfast clubs. I suspect it depends on the area you live in and what your school has decided to provide with the pupil premium. AFAICS DD receives very little of "her" (and I know it's not specifically for her!) pupil premium, as she is achieving above expectations at school and it mostly goes to support those that need help with literacy/numeracy by funding a specialist teacher and extra TAs who can do small group work.

Rooble Thu 10-Oct-13 10:53:53

It's a really difficult one. My city is in the process of closing down 16 of its 27 libraries. One of the key factors in the decision-making process re: which of the libraries to close was what they termed "demographic need" - so basically the poorest areas with the highest levels of underachievement in school and the highest levels of unemployment will be likely to retain their library. My area (middle-class, fairly but not ludicrously affluent, some social-housing) will lose all its libraries so that the nearest one to us will be a 40 minute bus journey away.
I can kind of understand the logic of the council's decision on paper - except that: is it a good idea to withdraw from one set of high-achieving children that which contributed to them being high-achieving in the first place, just so that lower achieving children can continue to have the facility that they have chosen not to access remain available?
Upping the pupil premium to £4k will mean money had to come from somewhere. I'm not clear where you're proposing this should be? It would surely be better to ensure that parents were literate so that they could read with their children? Or, as mentioned above, that homework clubs were made available to all? (With the loss of our library we will lose our local homework club. Plus ready access to the reference books).
It's a much bigger issue than throwing a bit of cash at some children.

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 10:56:36

I think this issue is much more complex than first appears.

When schools receive extra funding for 'disadvantaged' children this often equals extra support, which lessons a teacher's burden to teach, for example reading. Part of the work can be 'delegated' and ownership over successful attainment is shared amongst more people. Assigning the term 'disadvantaged' to a sector of children also reduces the perception of how successfully they can be expected to learn, thus shifting the blame for poor standards away from teachers to economical circumstances. In turn this could mean there is less incentive to actually term this group of children children 'successful'.

With the way teacher assessment works, there is huge potential for subjective judgement. One person's 'securely' working within a target is another's 'emergent' within a target.

Assigning the term 'disadvantaged' to a whole sector of children from the outset does not help pre-conceptions about what they will attain and the aspirations (which are recorded in terms of predicted grades) for them. It is amazing how many schools are accused of 'massaging' the sub-levels to fit in with their own performance management.

I think the thread below makes interesting reading when considering how 'neutral' some within the teaching profession actually are, especially when funding is tied in with attainment / whole sectors of children.

I wonder how many schools have been trying to encourage uptake of FSM, since it gains then extra funding. Also some LAs give extra funding for low Prior Attainment, so I wonder if this will affect figures at all. If all school children under 7 then get FSM I wonder what effect that will have.

Elfhame Thu 10-Oct-13 11:08:35

I am on a low income. I used to be on benefits but as soon as I started work all entitlement to free school meals etc stopped. People on low incomes don't get free trips and music lessons - they don't even get free school meals. We don't get free breakfast club either.

I think school dinners should be free for all - the fact that some pay in but don't get back just breeds resentment toward those who do get help. I also think extending the school day is a good idea.

I don't get to spend as much time with the kids as I would like as I work all weekend, 12 hour shifts, whilst the children's dad works in the week. The kid's dad has dyslexia and learning difficulties and struggles with my DD's year 3 reading, so it is only me who can really help them with their homework. I do as much as I can in the evenings, but extending the school day and homework clubs would definitely help us.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 11:12:26

just another quick thought - i don't think fsm is actually a good indicator of whether extra money is needed. my son for example was on fsm for his first year in school - i was not working, am an ex-teacher and postgrad educated and was time rich and unsurprisingly then ds entered school with effectively an advantage over many children of financially better off households. he certainly didn't require anything extra educationally because i happened to be on benefits at the time though less bloody demands for payments for timetabled activities would have been nice.

if anything ds is worse off really now that i'm working as i've become time poor and knackered as well as not really being overall any better off financially.

this fsm = disadvantaged = need more money/have greater needs than others is far too simplistic.

if there is extra money to be had spend it on providing more for all children. those with the most need will benefit the most but it won't be about singling out groups for labeling with all the subsequent reduced expectations.

swallowedAfly Thu 10-Oct-13 11:15:03

and yy to inequities of provision and funding breeding resentment.

Elfhame Thu 10-Oct-13 11:18:23

One to one reading is a brilliant idea

brambleandapple Thu 10-Oct-13 11:23:10

I wouldn't want to extend the school day though...I think children do enough. There is already more than enough pressure on them.

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