'Dundee council sets up project to tackle hidden costs of going to school' | CPAG

'Dundee council sets up project to tackle hidden costs of going to school'

Published on: 
30 September 2017

From Dundee Evening Telegraph report on Cost of the School Day Dundee from 30 September, 2017:

The hidden costs of the school day are to be tackled through a new project commissioned by Dundee City Council.

The local authority has recruited the Child Poverty Action Group charity to carry out a study on what can be done to reduce financial pressures on hard-up families.

The charity is speaking to children, parents and staff at 15 nurseries, primaries and secondaries across the city that volunteered to take part to find out where cost pressures lie.

It follows a recommendation from the Dundee Fairness Commission, which called on the council to formally assess the financial impact of school on those less well-off.

The results of the Cost of the School Day report will be presented to city education chiefs in March.

The project was first carried out in Glasgow in 2015 and reaped positive results.

Project leader Marion Fairweather said the Glasgow study identified a number of key concerns.

She said: “We found there were always examples of good practice but the study really helped focus the schools’ thinking.

“It highlighted the impact that missing things like P7 residential trips had on children and how it affected their experience at school.

“Often it was things like better planning for school events.

“Around Christmas there might be the Christmas fair, the Christmas disco and the panto — and they all cost a bit of money. If you’ve got two or three kids you might be spending between £20-£30 just so your kids can take part and, at Christmas, your budget is already stretched.”

Susan Epsworth is a worker on the project, who is also a family development officer with the council.

She has been speaking to groups of kids in schools to get their views on everything from breakfast clubs to gym kits.

She said: “We get a wee flavour of all of these things and ask for their ideas of what the school could be doing to help. For example, one of the schools has a worry box we encourage to be used if they think, for instance, their parents can’t pay for a school trip.

“Big things coming out of it, especially for older pupils, are P7 residential trips just because of the sheer amount of money, and the availability of breakfast clubs. Every school has good practices that we can look to share across the city.”

The project has already flagged up issues for schools to tackle, including the availability of breakfast clubs, affordability of uniforms, and even the self-image of secondary school pupils.

Education chiefs have been presented with a progress report sharing some of the common issues and good practices.

Marion added: “We were speaking to a single parent who wanted to take her children to breakfast club.

“She had been on a waiting list for three years and she had to go to a private one that was more expensive.

“You want parents to be working but if the support isn’t there that’s a big barrier for families, and teachers are very aware of the effect not having breakfast can have on children.”

She added: “We’ll be pulling together a report of our key findings and our key recommendations — including parents’ and kids’ suggestions — and working with individual schools to develop action plans.

“The schools are very on board and we’re really excited that Dundee City Council wanted to do this.”