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Low income and education Essay

This essay will consider if children from low income families are disadvantaged in the education system. It will examine if there is a direct link between poverty and low educational attainment. As far back as 1959 the Crowther Report identified a link between low incomes and low attainment levels. This was followed in 1963 by the Newsom report that found many secondary modern schools were deficient and argued that the less privileged 50 per cent of children did not receive their fair share of resources. (P Young, Mastering Social Welfare, p. 180) Recent research from the Institute of Education has shown that children from poorer families are no more likely to gain qualifications than they were a generation ago.

A study carried out by Barbara Jefferis, a research fellow at the Institute of Child Healthfound a strong link between social background and cognitive development. The research carried out found the gap between educational attainment between the richest and the poorest in society widened as time went on. (The Guardian, August 9th 2002)

The British Medical Journal published a study in August 2002 that firmly points at poverty and social deprivation as some of the most significant factors why some children do less well than others. Nick Davis points out in his book, The School Report: he is not uncovering the unknown but exposing something that no one with any power will admit. The ‘great unmentionable’, Davis shows, is the direct correlation that exists between educational performance and poverty. (N.Davis, 2000)

David Miliband, the Minister of State for school standards, has stated that only 14 per cent of young people from lower income backgrounds go to university, compared to 75 per cent from more advantaged homes.

For some children the first step in education is nursery education. Although not compulsory nursery education is now available to all three and four year olds. A scheme set up by the government provides nursery vouchers for all three and four year olds. These vouchers are used to purchase OFSTED inspected nursery education. State run nursery schools are available in many areas, although these may not have the same resources as private ones. High quality nursery education may be available although only parents with a higher income may be able to afford the extra costs than those provided by the voucher scheme. Many educational experts consider that pre school education is a vital foothold in education. If a child is unable to achieve the best possible start in education it may reflect on their educational achievement.

The government’s response to this is the Sure Start scheme. Sure Start is aimed at pre school children which as well as focusing on education focuses on health. In recognizing that a child’s early years are vital to their future success, Sure Start provides better opportunities for young children. Support is also offered to parents in preparing them to assist their child to succeed. (www.homeoffice.gov.uk/ucu/suppfam.) As most parents of children living in poverty may have a limited education themselves support for parents is essential in helping their child succeed. Very early education begins in the family home through interaction, as education can break the cycle of poverty, parental education and parenting skills may be more important than economic factors.

Deprivation may effect a child’s education in many ways. Children that live in poverty often live in the most deprived areas of a neighbourhood. These areas often have schools which may be at the lower end of performance league tables. League tables show that schools in areas of social housing or with high numbers of private rented accommodation perform less well than schools in more affluent areas. Schools whose pupils are mostly from large inner city council estates are often referred to as sink state schools, hardly aspiring for those pupils that attend them. As the parents or parent of these pupils have limited income they are not in the position to move to a better area which has access to a better school. If they were able to secure a place in a better performing school outside the area, they may be unable to afford the traveling expenses.

Families with higher incomes are able to move into catchment areas of the better schools. Parents are often willing to pay more to live near a high achieving school. (Gibbons and Machin, 2000) Selective education is available in Britain, although most of this is in fee-paying Independent schools. Others are known as ‘grant maintained schools’, and they may use their own methods of selection. This often excludes children from low income families and particularly those from the worst areas. School performance League table’s 2000 show that the top one hundred schools for GCSE results were either Independent or Selective, with just one exception, Thomas Telford School that is comprehensive. [Education league tables 2000 D.f.E.E.]

Reports show that attainment varies according to the socio-economic backgrounds of children. In 1998, only 45 per cent of 11 year-olds in schools with high numbers on free school meals reached the Government’s attainment targets in English and Maths, whilst more than 60 per cent reached that target in other schools. (Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion, 1999, p.26)

The government has introduced some policies in education to help reduce inequality. These include Education Action Zones; these were established in areas of high deprivation. Along with money from private-sector sponsors and government they can attract better teachers through higher salaries. Homework clubs are set up, enabling pupils a quite place to study and the necessary resources. (Haralambos and Holbrn 2000) Barnardos an organization that works with children recognise the link between educational attainment and poverty. Currently they are involved in various projects with children from deprived families; one of these is setting up homework clubs in schools and libraries around the country.

Children from low income families may not have access to books in the home or educational toys. A quiet place to do homework or studying may be unavailable. Family visits to museums and other places of educational interest may be unavailable in households of low income. These types of visits encourage and motivate children to succeed. Public libraries can provide a valuable resource in assisting a child’s learning. As well as providing free access to books many hold reading hours and various forms of fun learning. Computers are now widely available for free use in many public libraries with access to the internet.

As computers are now widely used in schools, having access to one at home would certainly improve a child’s ability in school. Pupils from low income
families are less likely to have access to a computer in the home. When online resources are available in school they may also be less able to make use of them than pupils who have experience of using the internet at home. The government did introduce a scheme for poorer families, enabling them to purchase recycled computer at low cost, however this never got further than a pilot scheme amid allegations of poor management.

Financial problems may increase stress amongst parents which may reduce their ability to assist in adequate educational support. Parental stress has been identified as a factor towards truancy. It maybe considered that certain background characteristics are linked with truancy. Children are more likely to truant if they are from low income families, live in social housing or live with only one or neither parent. (Casey and Smith 1995) Research carried out at Cambridge Universityestablished a link between truancy and poverty in primary school children.

The study looked statistics on truancy in London boroughs between 1997 and 2000. Council education welfare officers and 98 parents on low incomes were also interviewed. Researcher Ming Zhang says the parents who were questioned said they sometimes forget about their younger children’s schooling when they hit financial trouble. ‘For many people this may be a bizarre excuse for primary school children not to attend school. Yet for families facing financial difficulties, the problem is real.’

As these primary school children progress to secondary school bad habits have already set in. The study also considered attitudes among education welfare officers and parents. Both agreed that the blame lay with irresponsible parents. They did not link between poverty and truancy amongst primary school pupils. [www.news.bbc.co.uk/education] Although this research suggests there is no link between poverty and truancy, forgetting to send a child to school because of financial worries may be considered as a link.

At present the education authorities can be seen to be tackling truancy, however this is mainly aimed at secondary school pupils.

LEA’s are taking action against persistent truants and educational welfare officers are visiting the homes of absent pupils.

Connexions is another government initiative aimed at helping young people.

Connexions provides a personal advisor for all 13 to 19 year olds, their aim is to keep young people in education, work on truancy and improve educational achievements. As well as providing career advice and other services they try to encourage school leavers into further education.

Children from low income families leave full time education earlier and with fewer formal qualifications than those from higher income families. Only 14 per cent of young people from lower income backgrounds go into higher education. At a time when the government is encouraging all school leavers to go into further education, then onto higher education this may be seen as an issue for concern. In September 2001, The Excellence Challenge was introduced; this is a three year programme. The key purpose is to improve links between schools, colleges and universities, over 190 million pounds has been committed to increase the number of young people from poorer backgrounds who apply and enter higher education. (www.dfes.gov.uk)

Schools in poorer areas are disadvantaged when they need to fundraise to provide more resources. A report published in May 2000 by the research charity Directory for Social Change claims that rich and poor schools are drifting further apart. Schools in deprived parts of the country are up to 500,000 worse off than those in well-to-do areas because they are unable to compete in fundraising stakes. Eighty per cent of state primary schools held fundraising events to buy books.

While one in five schools generated less than 1000 a year in donations, one per cent got over 25,000. Five per cent of secondary schools got less than 1000 per year while three per cent received more than 250,000 in donations. The report described parental donations as a hidden fault line that is widening into inequality of opportunity for children. The report also warns that the pursuit of cash is putting undue pressure on teachers and diverting them from teaching. [www.literacytrust.org.uk/Database/povertyupdate.html]

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that the number of pupils leaving school without basic qualifications has decreased. In 2001, a quarter of GCSE students failed to pass any subject with grades A-C compared with a third ten years previously. Similarly, one in four 11 year olds failed to achieve target level 4 in English in 2001 compared with more than four out of ten in 1996. The improvement in primary schools serving high proportions of low income children was at least as good as the national average.

In considering the evidence it may be concluded that low educational attainment is correlated to poverty. Education may be a route out of poverty but it appears not everybody has the same opportunities. Research does show that with the help of pre- school nurseries, Sure Start, the Education Action Zones and the Excellence Challenge progress can be made in alleviating inequalities in education.


Casey, B. and Smith, D. (1995) Truancy and Youth Transitions, England and Wales Youth Cohort Study, London: Policy Studies Institute.

Davis, N. (2000) The School Report: Why Britain’s Schools Are Failing. Vintage

Haralambos and Holborn. (2000) Sociology Themes and Perspectives. London: HarperCollins.

Howarth, C, et al. (1999) Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Young, P. (2000) Mastering Social Welfare. Macmillan Press.

The Guardian, August 9th 2002

Education League Tables. D.f.E.E.





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