Donald Macleod, Senior Education Officer, tell us about Western Isles Council's Cost of the School Day approach:
As part of our overall commitment to address the drivers of poverty and support our most vulnerable pupils across Western Isles schools, reducing the cost of the school day has featured prominently, and is included in commitments within our Local Child Poverty Action Report. Our schools have been supported to increase awareness, develop policies, work with parents and the school Parent Council, develop initiatives and work with local partners; all with the intention of addressing additional and hidden school costs.
One key element of the overall approach was the appointment of a team of Education Attainment Apprentices, recruited through our schools agreeing to pool together their Pupil Equity Funding annually with the common goal of addressing the inclusion, participation, engagement and wider social barriers affecting children in poverty and the subsequent impact that can have on their attainment. As well as a broad number of direct interventions and support, the team have been tasked with both reducing the cost of the school day for children and families and increasing participation.
This has included a number of projects, some specific to local school settings. They have organised free uniform exchanges; provided breakfast clubs; undertaken transport to get children to clubs; organised and operated free clubs; identified partnerships to reduce or remove costs of trips and excursions; supported attendance via home visits and family support; provided food parcels that support provision of snacks and packed lunches (when not eligible for Free School Meals) and, most significantly, have partnered with CLD for several summers to run a full programme of free summer activities, allowing children to participate and engage with peers from their school area without incurring cost or allowing money to be a barrier.
Rachel Macdonald, Education Attainment Team Manager, explains more about the work of the Education Attainment Apprentices:
In the Western Isles we have a team of Educational Attainment Apprentices funded through the Pupil Equity Fund which ensures that children and their families in our Primary Schools have the tools and support needed to keep costs low and manageable as well as working on attainment and engagement at school.
As the Covid pandemic hit the islands, our Team pulled together and worked tremendously hard, supporting home learning, building some strong relationships with parents and carers. They worked with the Social Work Team to provide weekly food parcels to those not only on benefits, but the families that were struggling as they faced furlough and job loss. This has been carried on and we are currently supporting 30 families on a regular basis. The recovery from Covid is going to be long and hard for some families, so with this in mind the focus on providing uniform either by donation or uniform swaps, has really taken off and been very popular.
The Team had already been running soft start Breakfast Clubs in most schools for couple of years. The children can get support with reading or homework if they need it. Breakfast club has been a clear benefit to many children, when sometimes mornings can be stressful and hard for some. Covid hasn’t changed this priority, just strengthened the need for the clubs as we recover from the past year. The Team has also been able to provide new clothing, supported through the Pupil Equity Fund and the Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund.
During the Summer Holidays we have for the past 3 years, provided a Summer Activity Programme which has been an amazing experience for us all, not just the children. We have provided a meal and any equipment needed to take part in the activities, and provided transport for those who couldn’t not get to the schools and venues easily. This was also important as we have a lot of villages in rural locations and public transport is not always available. Bringing schools together and working with other teams of staff and watching the young ones developing confidence, building their resilience and making new friends is a highlight.
Being able to form a connection with the families and the children we work with has been a huge part of the work that we do on a daily basis. Nurturing these positive relationships is so important to the future and ongoing success of the children we work with. We listen to them and hear what they say, working most commonly on health and wellbeing with the focus on building resilience and confidence.