Making festive fun more inclusive

Published on: 
02 December 2021
Written by: 

Georgina Burt, England Development Manager (UK Cost of the School Day)

For many children, the run-up to the Christmas holidays is packed with excitement, twinkling lights and glitter. Schools pack in festive activities like winter fairs, Christmas lunches, class parties and nativities. However, this fun and festivity also means additional school-related expenses for families. December comes with an extensive list of costs, from buying Christmas jumpers, nativity outfits and tickets for school concerts, to purchasing gifts for school staff, Christmas cards and party food.

Through the UK Cost of the School Day project, families have told us that requests for contributions arrive more frequently in the weeks before the end of term. One parent said: ‘sometimes there is too much ask in one go.’ Low-income families struggle to pay for these added costs from their already-stretched family budgets. 

For children, the additional costs associated with Christmas in school can mean that they have to miss out on experiences readily enjoyed by their peers. Children have told us that they have stayed in classrooms and watched a film or done colouring in while their peers have attended the Christmas fair. A year 3 pupil (7 years old) explained: ‘I think people feel bad if they don’t have money for the winter fair.’ Pupils have also told us that they can feel left out or embarrassed on Christmas jumper day if they attend school in their uniform, or wear the same jumper as last year. 

These stories provide an insight into school life and serve as a reminder that Christmas activities are yet another part of school life that children growing up in poverty are unintentionally excluded from. 

The solutions to poverty lie in ensuring families have enough money and tackling the costs they face. There are practical steps that schools can take to reduce the pressures of school costs and thereby remove barriers to participation for young people. A child’s ability to participate in school fun and experience the magic of the festive season should not be limited by their family’s finances. 

Many schools already make sure that festive events and activities include all children. For example, one school organised a cost-free communal celebration and gave all children a Christmas hat:

‘We celebrated Christmas. We put the tree up and put Christmas hats on in the dinner hall. When we were in the hall, we had Christmas lunch. Everyone got a hat.’ (Year 3 pupil, 7 years old)

Other schools have funded virtual pantomimes rather than attending an in-person pantomime, providing snack bags for all pupils to enjoy at a much lower cost. Some schools have also moved away from a culture of gift-giving, and instead provide all pupils with time and resources to make their teacher a card. 

Exclusion from full participation in school life is not unique to December and Christmas festivities. But as one of the most expensive periods of the year, Christmas is the ideal time to look at how to make sure children in low-income households can participate fully in school life by reducing school costs. We can and should redesign the school calendar with a focus on participation and inclusion for all, so that no child is locked out of any part of the school day. 

For more ideas about how to make December and celebrations throughout the school year more inclusive for families on a low income, take a look at our Cost of the School Day Calendar and advent calendar, which include best practice examples of how schools are tackling this issue.