We often see social media strewn with joyous pictures of pupils adorning their World Book Day costumes, their scary Halloween outfits or their festive Christmas jumpers.
But have you ever thought about the costs and resources required for these fun events, and the worry they can cause children and their families?
My role as Poverty Proofing Practice Adviser gives me an understanding of the common themes across the Poverty Proofing the School Day and UK Cost of the School Day projects. One of the things children and their families tell us time and again is that fun events at school can be a barrier to fully participating in school life.
While schools aim to provide enriching experiences through activities like charity days, dress-up days and cultural celebrations, these can be a source of anxiety and financial pressure. They can also be stigmatising for children who have no choice but to wear their school uniform while watching their peers compare outfits with one another.
Asking for the odd charity donation here and there may not seem like much, but the requests mount up over the year with non-uniform days, charity merchandise, food for Christmas parties and Eid celebrations, costumes for Nativity plays, spending money for the school disco, and on and on. That’s before we even consider other school costs families have to meet for uniforms, trips and resources.
The young people we have spoken to have reflected on some of the costs of fun events, with many telling us they didn’t think they were always worth it:
"I maybe spent about £200 on stuff for prom. It wasn’t worth it for the event because it wasn't that great." (Pupil, age 16)
It’s clear from our research with young people and families that we need to consider how to mark special occasions differently, ensuring students enjoy them without burdening families with expenses. From my experience, I know that young people have lots of creative solutions, so I’d urge schools to consult with their pupils on how to make their fun events more inclusive.
Our Cost of Having Fun at School report has practical recommendations, showing that it’s possible to include these events in the school year in a way that makes no child feel left out or different. Schools don’t need to make costly or drastic changes: it’s about adopting a different point of view – one that includes all the children in your school, regardless of their financial background.
It’s time to start listening to the voices and experiences of children and young people and putting them at the heart of our policies and practices, so all children can experience the joy school can bring.