Cost of a school day in Scotland

Date: 25th June 2020
Category: Child poverty, Education, including vocational education

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COVID-19 has magnified the already greater risk of poorer educational outcomes and wellbeing, increased barriers to engagement and reduced participation in school life associated with growing up in poverty. This finding originates from a survey that looked at how household income has affected children’s experiences of education while they learn from home.

Education comes with many hidden costs and prior to the pandemic, many children from low income households lacked the resources to fully participate in all educational opportunities. Schools help to reduce many of these financial pressures and encourage participation by: enabling digitally excluded pupils to get online; providing access to ICT and software; providing free breakfasts and school dinners; printing off worksheets; lending out books; providing pastoral care, ensuring that pupils are safe, happy and able to thrive; providing the opportunity to play outside, and participate in sports and the arts.

Due to school closures as a result of COVID-19, parents and carers have been faced with the new challenge of continuing their children’s learning at home without the full support from schools.

This survey of 3,218 parents and carers and 1,074 children and young people looked at how household income has affected children’s participation of school life whilst at home. The findings show:

  • Parents and carers on low incomes were just as likely to be concerned with helping their children to continue learning through lockdown than their better off peers. Nonetheless, they reported facing significantly more stress around home learning and household finances than parents and carers in better off homes.
  • Low-income families who responded were twice as likely to say that they lacked all the resources they needed to support learning at home, with 40% saying they were missing at least one essential resource.
  • Low-income families were more likely to have had to buy educational resources compared to those in better off homes.
  • A third of people most worried about money have had to purchase a laptop, tablet or other device during lockdown.
  • Around a third of all families who were much less likely to report having money worries or lacking the resources they needed, said they were enjoying learning at home. By contrast, families who were worried about money were more likely to say they found it difficult to continue their children’s education at home.
  • Most families said they preferred to receive support in lieu of free school meals through direct payments to their bank accounts, as this method allowed flexibility, dignity, safety and convenience.
  • Children and young people valued being able to communicate with their teachers online and via phone calls. Parents and carers appreciated schools that took the time to understand their particular circumstances and offer personalised support.
  • Secondary school pupils were more likely to report that they had done a lot of schoolwork at home if they were regularly keeping in touch with their teachers. By contrast, pupils who said that they were having infrequent or no contact with their schools reported doing much less work.
  • Pupils who reported doing a lot of work at home were also more likely to report that their schools had provided them with the resources to help them work at home
  • Socioeconomic status did not hugely influence parental views about returning to school, as regardless of income, the most important factor for many parents and carers was the provision of emotional support to help pupils settle back in and come to terms with the events of 2020.

Based on these findings, the following recommendations were made to UK Government, devolved governments, and local authorities:

  • The UK Government should increase child benefit by £10 per child per week- A £10 uplift in child benefit is the most efficient and effective way of getting money to families to reduce these cost burdens and tackle child poverty. In addition, the Scottish Government should, in advance of the roll out of the Scottish Child Payment, use its powers and existing delivery mechanisms at local and national level to provide emergency financial payments to low income families.
  • Provide all children with the learning tools they need for the curriculum, at home or at school.
  • Schools should be properly funded to remove barriers to learning- While local government and schools are best placed to assess resource needs and allocate what is needed to pupils, national government must ensure resources and plans are in place that leave no child without the tools to fully participate in school
  • Cash payments should replace the value of free school meals- Payments should be made via direct payments as this provides flexibility, dignity, safety and convenience, all of which are highly valued.
  • The earnings threshold for eligibility for free school meals should be urgently reviewed.
  • Maintain regular contact with pupils and families to support learning and wellbeing- As children and families say that this helps them to engage in learning and feel supported.
  • Schools should implement poverty-aware approaches to policies and practices as pupils return- Given recent events and the time spent out of school, families may not be able to afford or may not have access to certain items such as school uniforms or learning materials. Schools should recognise the struggles families may have faced during school closures and be understanding.
  • Schools should prioritise safe opportunities for children to rebuild bonds with their classmates and teachers whom they have missed greatly during school closures.
  • Families and pupils must be involved in planning for the return to school Schools and local authorities should consult with parents, so they feel prepared and are able to plan work and childcare arrangements. Pupils should also be included to help reduce some of the worries and uncertainties they are feeling about returning to school life in changed circumstances.

Read more about the survey and recommendations here.