Press Release

Government must support schools to take the battle against child poverty inside the school gates, new Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives report urges

March 15, 2024
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Centre for Young Lives

Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives report sets out an evidence-based plan to use the country’s education infrastructure to reduce the impact of child poverty on millions of children.

Report calls for the poverty battle to be taken ‘inside the school gates’, including a plan for Free School Meals to go to individual schools and nurseries in areas with the worst levels of child poverty.

The report highlights recent analysis of the data of over 60,000 children illustrating a link between poverty and the current school attendance crisis.

A report published today (Friday 15th March) by Child of the North and former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield’s new Centre for Young Lives think tank, is calling on the Government to take the battle to reduce child poverty inside the school gates and put the country’s education infrastructure at the forefront of a national plan to tackle poverty.

[.download]Download the Report[.download]

The report, “An evidence-based plan for addressing poverty with and through schools” argues that schools and nurseries are anchors in the most deprived communities and that they should play a leading role in those areas with the worst child poverty. It calls for:
With over 4 million children in the UK living in poverty – 1m of them in the North of England – the report highlights the negative impact poverty is having on many children’s education, health, and future employment:

The report also highlights the link between child poverty and the current school attendance crisis, suggesting that children growing up in poverty are likely to be at increased risk of being persistently absent from school.

It highlights new data from over 60,000 pupils across the Bradford District collated by the Connected Bradford project which shows that over half (57%) of those identified as persistently absent from school were eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). It found that children eligible for FSM were three times more likely to become persistently absent at some point over their school career compared to their peers who did not receive FSM. This grew to 4.5 times more likely for those who were persistently absent for two or more years across their schooling. These findings suggest that children growing up in poverty are likely to be at increased risk of not attending school.

The report draws on evidence to show how many educational establishments have already become anchor institutions within some disadvantaged areas, particularly during the pandemic when schools and nurseries played a major role in supporting the needs of children, young people and families living in poverty. It calls for schools to be supported to mitigate the problems of poverty within the classroom and beyond.

It highlights existing initiatives that show the positive impact that projects within the school gates can have on alleviating child poverty, including “Poverty Proofing” - developed and rolled out by Children North East - and the related “Cost of the school day” from the Child Poverty Action Group.  

“Poverty Proofing” the School Day is a national programme which aims to ensure that “no activity or planned activity in school should identify, exclude, treat differently or make assumptions about those with less financial resource”.  It listens to the voices and experiences of young people and identifies institutional inequalities in provision as well as providing an action plan to address issues such as affordability and access of uniform, administration and stigmatisation around FSMs, access to resources and activities, behaviour and setting, transport to school, accessing trips and extra-curricular provision, and support for parents and families.

As a result of the programme, those schools taking part have changed their practices around these issues and have subsequently reported improved attendance and attainment, as well as greater take-up of FSM and extra-curricular trips and activities, and more effective use of hypothecated funding.

The report also highlights the work of Opportunity Areas, for example the free school breakfast clubs established for all children in schools that had at least 35% of pupils eligible for Pupil Premium through the Bradford Opportunity Area initiative. Following this initiative, schools reported that pupils’ academic progress increased by an average of two months across reading, writing, and maths.

It also sets out how universities can play an important role in raising attainment of children in their local areas. Durham University have begun to explore how they can play a role in raising the attainment of children in their area and are sponsoring a scheme to provide local schools around Durham with evidence-based programmes that support disadvantaged pupils.

The proposed plan to reduce child poverty and remove the barriers to education also includes:
Anne Longfield, Executive Chair of the Centre for Young Lives said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the critical supporting role that nurseries and schools play in the lives of many families, and reducing child poverty must include strengthening the role of schools as part of a national plan.

“It also highlighted the deep inequalities in educational achievement and the barriers to children’s life chances that come with high levels of poverty.

“Schools are on the frontline of the battle against child poverty but are overwhelmed by what is being asked of them. We need to give our schools and school leaders the tools – and, crucially, the funding – they need to poverty-proof their schools.

“Intervening within the school gates to target the most vulnerable children to make sure they are provided with the support they need with pastoral support, family workers, educational psychologists, youth workers, breakfast and after school clubs, enrichment activities and holiday play schemes, can make such a difference to breaking down barriers and inequalities.

“Child poverty has become the elephant in the room in Westminster. Both parties have an opportunity at the forthcoming election to look at measures to tackle the root causes that are holding so many children back in their education. Free School Meals should be a long-term ambition for all schools, but we should start by targeting individual schools in local areas with the most disadvantaged children and young people.

“The evidence is clear that investment in the UK’s education system is being squandered because the effects of poverty are not being addressed as an integral part of educational provision. Schools should no longer have to use sticking plaster solutions to tackle poverty.”

Professor Mark Mon Williams, Child of The North report series editor, said:

“Education is the most powerful tool available to a nation that wishes to invest in its future. Poverty is eroding the life chances of millions of children in the UK and fuelling inequity and economic stagnation. There is hope for the UK’s future, but it requires immediate investment in the eradication of child poverty and the removal of poverty related barriers to education. The weight of scientific evidence shows we must act and work with and through educational establishments to give every child the best possible start in life.”

Dr Charmele Ayadurai, Assistant Professor of Finance at Durham University, said:

“Despite the UK being one of the wealthiest economies in the world, with favourable economic conditions and rising wealth associated with the years between 2012 and 2021, this has worryingly not been translated into reductions in child poverty.

“In March 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a bold pledge to end child poverty in the next twenty years. Twenty five years on, we are still struggling to reduce child poverty. The task could not be more pressing. 4.2 million children in the UK today are growing up in poverty. One million children are living in extreme poverty.

“The report makes it clear that we need to start prioritising children by promoting an equal life chance from all aspects. It is not enough to raise children’s aspirations through education alone without poverty proofing schools, narrowing the gaps in attainment, or by allowing children to sleep in a cold bedroom or study on an empty stomach. Our children are the hope for the future, let there be light.”

[.download]Download the Report[.download]


For further information please contact Jo Green (Centre for Young Lives): or WhatsApp/mobile 07715105415.

Notes to editors:
  1. The report can be accessed here:
  2. Today’s report has been produced by eight research intensive universities in the North of England – the N8 Research Partnership – in collaboration with a wider academic community (the N8+) as part of the Child of the North initiative, and the new Centre for Young Lives think tank, founded in January 2024 by former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield. It is the second in a series of twelve Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives reports to be published during 2024 looking at how to encourage the Government and Opposition to reset their vision for children and show how putting the interests and life chances of young people at the heart of policy making and delivery is crucial to Britain’s future success. They shine a light on some of the biggest challenges facing the Government while also providing rigorous research and pragmatic, evidence-based recommendations which acknowledge the ongoing financial limitations on government spending. Seven principles will be a theme throughout the twelve reports: the Government must “put children first”; inequality must be addressed; place-based approaches must be adopted; public services must work together more effectively; education must be at the heart of public service delivery; universities must become the ‘research and development’ departments for local public services; and information must be shared across public service providers and used effectively.
  3. Child of the North is a partnership between the N8 Research Partnership and the Northern Health Science Alliance / Health Equity North and includes partners from across the North of England. Its vision is to develop a platform for collaboration, high-quality research, and policy engagement to support fairer futures for children living in the North of England. The N8 Research Partnership is a strategic collaboration between the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York, and aims to maximise the impact of this research base to enable business innovation and societal transformation. The N8 universities receive around 80% of competitively awarded research funding in the North of England, and employ more than 18,000 academic staff, forming the largest research-pooling partnership in the UK. N8 creates programmes involving a critical mass of world class academics which form networks of innovation excellence with partners in other sectors, to drive investment and economic growth.
  4. Health Equity North is a virtual institute focused on place-based solutions to public health problems and health inequalities across the North of England. Health Equity North brings together world-leading academic expertise from the Northern Health Science Alliance membership of leading universities, hospitals, and academic health science networks, with the aim of fighting health inequalities through research excellence and collaboration.

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