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Home and school-based learning must be ‘poverty-proofed’, says UK charity

Isla Stanton,13, completes her school work at home as schools across the UK would normally be opening for the summer term this week although remain closed to all but a few pupils with no current reopening timetable as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

By Vicky Shaw
Children are sharing workspaces and laptops at home and missing out on seeing their classmates online, as families struggle with the cost of home schooling, a UK report has found.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) found that families on low incomes who are living on means-tested benefits are particularly likely to have bought extra resources to help their child’s education during the lockdown.

But with budgets under strain, many are also unlikely to have everything they need to help their child learn at home.

Families living on means-tested benefits were particularly 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.

Many families who said they are worried about money also told the charity that they have had to purchase a laptop, tablet or other device during lockdown.

A survey of 3,600 parents and carers and 1,300 children and young people in England, Scotland and Wales was carried out by CPAG’s UK Cost of the School Day project, run in partnership with Children North East, in May.

It found that while low-income parents and carers are concerned with helping their children to continue learning through lockdown, they reported facing significantly more stress and worry around home learning and household finances than those in better off homes.

Families who were worried about money were more likely to say they found it difficult to continue their children’s education at home.

Pupils who were doing a lot of work at home were more likely to report that their schools had provided them with the resources to help them work at home, the report found.

The charity is calling for a £10 per child, per week, increase in child benefit and for all children to be provided with the learning tools they need at home or at school.

Schools should be properly funded to remove barriers to learning, it said.

One mother from Scotland told the charity she was “heartbroken” because her nine-year-old is missing out on an online chat facility and has therefore lost the connection with her class.

And a parent of a nine-year-old in England told the survey their child is not learning because the family does not even have access to even library resources, adding: “We already had limited material due to lack of money to buy stuff.”

Another mother in Scotland said the family had spent £100 on ink just trying to keep up with printouts.

And a 15-year-old girl from Dundee in Scotland said: “I need a computer to do my assignment.”

“Five of us share one computer in the family.”

A 12-year-old girl from Inverness in Scotland told the survey: “I share the desk top with my brother for his homework too.”

The charity said schools are likely to find that pupils are coming back to class have lived through very different lockdown experiences over the past few months.

It added that while gaps in learning and differences in academic progress rightly concern educators and policymakers, parents and young people have told it they are just as concerned about the longer-term effects of increased social isolation and household stress.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of CPAG said: “When it comes to bearing the additional costs of learning at home during the pandemic, we are not ‘all in it together’.

“School closures place additional cost burdens on families who were already struggling to get by before being hit by the additional financial pressures of Covid-19.

“Free school meal alternatives, and in particular cash alternatives, are essential for families and more widely, an urgent increase to child benefit of £10 per week is needed so that all parents can do their best to support their children’s learning and wellbeing through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

“All parents want the best for their children and to support their learning.

“As we move towards new approaches to schooling, such as a mix of home and school-based learning, the school day must be ‘poverty-proofed’ regardless of where learning is taking place so that all children can take part in the whole curriculum.”

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