The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Kelly Hannaghan

How deprivation affects outcomes in education – and what we can do about it

Like many school leaders, Kelly Hannaghan is seeing first-hand the effects of poverty on her school community. What can schools do to empower families and ensure children achieve their academic potential? 

The Child Poverty Act 2010 set targets for ending child poverty by 2020. However, child poverty is actually rising in the UK, with recent research showing persistent poverty affecting one in five children, and a further 1.1 million children likely to be living in relative poverty in another five years. 

Child poverty in working families is also on the rise, with annual poverty statistics (households below average income) showing 2.9 million children from working families in the UK living in poverty after housing costs have been paid.

This isn’t just a story of statistics. I see the full effects of low pay, benefit cuts, universal credits and the housing crisis is having on the families within our school community. I also identify with the current pressure that schools face in bridging the gap for our pupils to thrive rather than just survive.

The impact of poverty on academic achievement: my story

As a child I lived on a council estate situated in a very deprived area with lots of crime and low income, unemployment and mental health issues. I feel poverty had a huge impact on my own childhood and ability to attain. It’s hard to concentrate on learning when you’re hungry.

My parents were uneducated, which had a detrimental effect on help available at home. Homework was very challenging; I would often avoid it altogether. I struggle to recall a time when my parents read to me.

Nevertheless, I was determined to rise above my social background and not be the product of my environment

School was the only place I had to access learning, but my vast learning needs presented a huge barrier. Nevertheless, I was determined to rise above my social background and not be the product of my environment.

Today my life is very different. I re-engaged with education as an adult, relinquished the shame around my dyslexia then fell in love with learning. This opportunity has changed my life beyond measure and is why I believe that if we give children a rounded education experience, we can equip and give them the chance of a decent and secure life.

Overcoming barriers to learning

Low achievement is closely correlated with lack of resources, and numerous studies have documented the correlation between low socioeconomic status and low achievement.

As a wellbeing leader I am finding that a greater number of pupils are moving schools more frequently due to the current housing crisis; this surely has a negative impact on their educational outcomes. 

So how can we help children overcome the many barriers to learning that poverty places in their way? Here are some of the ways we’re supporting children and families within our school community.

  • Early breakfast club for families experiencing poverty
  • School uniform bank
  • Work with local food banks
  • Set up a household bank for families to access who have been placed in emergency accommodation
  • Create a community offer board highlighting services and support available in the local community
  • Connect with national and local charities
  • Offer free fruit snacks for all school children
  • An offer of extra-curricular activities
  • Homework clubs
  • Learning booster sessions
  • Purposeful intervention provision
  • Regular collection of parent and pupil voice

Engaging and empowering families

Poverty can be easily be mistaken for neglect, with pupils attending school hungry with dirty unkept uniform. Families often report not having enough money to provide food, clean and tidy uniform, even some struggling to have heating or even bedding due to their financial situation.

More families are getting into debt, finding no way out and at times being evicted due to housing rent debt. Parents have reported waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money.

Offering a safe space for parents to share the worries of their situations can really help release the stigma around talking about financial struggles. We link up with local charities and support services enabling us to share the responsibility of helping our families most in need.

As a result of attending, we have parents who have enrolled on college courses and secured jobs.

I have also successfully engaged families by offering weekly empowerment sessions for parents; they report gaining key life and learning skills which have impacted their families in a positive way. Our Family Matters programme aims to grow confidence and engagement within a positive learning space. As a result of attending, we have parents who have enrolled on college courses and secured jobs. Previously these same families were feeling the pinch that poverty was having on their lives.

Freedom to choose

‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. No proverbial wisdom better captures why so many people see education as the surest route out of poverty.

As educators we must be seen to truly value the variety of skills and interests of young people by investing in all aspects of their learning, emotional and social development, thus equipping our future generation to have a dignified and decent level of living, with the freedom to choose to live a socially inclusive life.

UK charities supporting families in crisis

Child Poverty Action Group

The Childhood Trust

Save The Children

Family Action

Turn 2 Us

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