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Poor pupils face hunger and stigma at school

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MSPs have raised concerns about the effect of growing child poverty on children's achievement at school

MSPs are appalled that increasing numbers of children are going to school in Scotland hungry.

A new report from the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee put the blame for rising child poverty on UK social security policies, such as the benefits freeze and cut in child tax credits.

However, MSPs said Scottish schools also need to stop imposing excessively expensive or unnecessary items of school uniforms, such as blazers, on pupils.

It also criticised schools that chastise or send home pupils that cannot afford to purchase or maintain school uniforms.

The committee heard numerous accounts of families unable to afford the correct school uniform or to regularly clean their uniforms, growing issues with digital exclusion as technology is used more and more by some schools, and stigma surrounding parents registering for, and children eating, free school meals.

Worryingly, the committee also heard of pupils struggling to afford materials to help them take part in school classes, such as home economics, PE and art and design.

Speaking as the report launched, committee convener James Dornan MSP said: “We heard strong evidence that aspects of UK Social Security policy are the single biggest reason for the increase in child poverty. We heard time and again that teachers are increasingly seeing children who are affected by poverty including children coming to school hungry. That this is an increasing problem in Scotland is utterly appalling but we know that this is something that schools cannot tackle alone.

“If we are serious about reducing the attainment gap, then we need to ensure that our schools do not have costs which impact on young people’s time at school including their opportunity to learn. This is not always about big changes, but rather a recognition that even the smallest policy can sometimes have a serious impact on families experiencing poverty.

With child poverty rising the UK government must end the freeze on family benefits - John Dickie, CPAG Scotland

“The cost of some school uniforms can be prohibitive. Similarly, the move to online payment or selection of school meals or trips creates a barrier for families who are not online.”

The committee concluded that the Scottish Government and local authorities need to do more to help teachers and school staff, as well as better recognise the value of community youth work.

Families on low income are able to apply for a minimum £100 per child clothing grant for school uniforms. An estimated 120,000 families are expected to benefit from the grant this year.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, reiterated the committee's call for schools to reduce the cost barriers that prevent youngsters from taking part in school activities. However, he said more families that are struggling financially need more direct help.

“As well as reducing costs in school action is needed to boost family incomes so that parents have the resources they need to give their children the educational opportunities they deserve,” said Dickie. “With child poverty rising the UK government must end the freeze on family benefits, whilst here in Scotland ministers must deliver on their promise of an income supplement for families as a matter of absolute urgency.”

The committee’s report also raises issues with the government’s targeted funding direct to schools including Pupil Equity Funding. For example the committee heard there can be an “urban bias” in funding allocations because, for example, families in smaller rural communities are not registering for free school meals due to stigma.

The committee’s report follows an inquiry into what can be done to support the education of children and young people who are experiencing poverty.



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