This is the second of a series of five blogs about why listening to pupils is key to tackling the cost of the school day. Kirsty Campbell, our Cost of the School Day Practitioner in Moray, describes how eye-opening it is to speak to pupils about school costs and money, and how willing pupils are to share their views.
As adults we can often feel embarrassed and hesitant talking about money, and acknowledging the very real issue of poverty in our communities. We might consider this too difficult a concept for children and young people in schools to discuss. However, in my experience, pupils have a very clear understanding of the link between what things in school might cost money and how the ability to afford these can mean some pupils are not included and made to feel different. All the practitioners across the project have had the same experience.
Pupils are always really welcoming, and excited to show you around their school and share with you what it’s like to be a pupil there. I will always be in awe and grateful to one P6 pupil (10 years old) who, when asked by the head teacher to reflect on what the Cost of the School Day assembly was about, put up their hand and answered very pragmatically: ‘it’s about inclusion’. Children and young people like being reminded that they are the experts in their school, and what they think is valued and listened to. Pupils enjoy being part of focus groups that explore solutions to financial barriers, with younger pupils often seeking you out in the playground and at lunch time to tell you more about their experiences.
During our discussions we never ask pupils about how much money their families have, and questions are always age appropriate. We ask pupils questions as a group, and don’t single out children or ask them to participate if they don’t want to. Pupils are sensitive and diligent about the rules of the discussion groups, using no names and respecting the confidentiality of peers. I have been surprised sometimes at the candour of pupils who share upsetting details about how they have felt different, but I am left impressed with how caring and supportive classmates are towards one another. Older primary school and secondary school pupils are very knowledgeable about some of the exact costs associated with school, and are quite comfortable telling us, for example, how much a school trip costs and: ‘it’s too much, my family couldn’t afford it’. They share the worry they feel, and the pressure placed on families. Covid restrictions have seen the project move to an online model and, although this means practitioners cannot experience the whole school day with pupils, the depth and quality of insight that pupils share with us is still very powerful, and helps to inform and shape change in their school. Young people are very astute and can effectively cut through all the noise and remind you: ‘It’s not fair. One of the school values is fairness!’