Children North East's Poverty Proofing the School Day supports schools to identify and overcome the barriers to learning that children and young people from families with less financial resources face.

Our independent, expert Poverty Proofing Team support schools with an audit which speaks to all students in the school and questions staff, parents and governors on how they see poverty affecting the school day. The result is an action plan tailored to each school to address any unintended stigmatising policies or practices and to celebrate and share excellent practice.

Burnside Business and Enterprise College in Wallsend underwent a poverty-proofing audit in 2017. The school was keen to support disadvantaged families and improve attendance. 

Freelance Journalist Emma-Lee-Potter spoke to Burnside's Deputy Head Charlotte Jenkins for the SecEd website, so we thought we'd share an extract of her brilliant article with you here.

Charlotte Jenkins is Burnside’s deputy head in charge of behaviour, welfare and attendance and when she heard Children North East's schools research and delivery lead Luke Bramhall speak about poverty-proofing at a conference his words resonated with her.

More than a third (37.7 per cent) of Burnside’s 944 year 7 to 11 students are eligible for Pupil Premium funding and nearly 19 per cent for free school meals.

“He talked about families where the fridge is empty and they don’t have a lot of possessions and that represented quite a proportion of our student body,” she explained. 

“We had attendance issues around Pupil Premium students at the time and he made me think that the barrier around coming to school wasn’t the work side but things like not having the right uniform and not having had breakfast. Things that we take for granted were the barriers to children setting foot in school.”

The pupils are the researchers

Ms Jenkins was impressed by the fact that pupils play an active role in poverty-proofing audits. Burnside staff chose 35 children from years 7 to 11 to act as researchers and the poverty-proofing team trained them in how to question their peers. 

The results of the audit were illuminating – and effected a host of changes at the school.

“Children very quickly recognise who is in poverty and who isn’t by what they have and don’t have,” said Ms Jenkins.

Would you believe that the girls said that if you didn’t have a River Island bag people knew you didn’t have a great deal of money?

Students’ observations included spotting that some younger pupils brought Smiggle pencil cases to school while others could not afford to buy a pen. They also noticed that even though Burnside requires everyone to wear black trainers some children had expensive designer trainers and others did not. 

Feeling excluded

When it came to mobile phones teachers sometimes asked pupils to use Kahoot!, the game-based learning platform.

“The whole class can participate but only if they have a phone that accepts apps,” said Ms Jenkins. “Poorer children often don’t have those sorts of phones so they were unable to participate. That was quite shocking because teachers were naïvely thinking it was a way to engage children in a fun lesson but some felt excluded because they didn’t have the right things.”

'School is a worthwhile place to be'

Following the audit Burnside abandoned non-uniform days. The school now purchases school bags for all year 7s so everyone has the same bags – and they are gradually being phased in for older year groups. It has also introduced a free breakfast club for all from 8:10am every day. 

In terms of music provision, Burnside already offered music lessons to disadvantaged pupils but the school now provides more extra-curricular activities at lunch times – “to increase engagement”. Attendance has gone up in the last two years and Ms Jenkins believes that poverty proofing has played a part in this.

“We are trying to create a very nurturing environment,” she said. “Somewhere pupils feel comfortable to come and feel they’ve got support – so regardless of what is going on at home, school is a worthwhile place to be.”