Headlines: September 7th, 2007

Children from poor backgrounds are aware that they face greatly reduced educational and future life chances, according to a study today, which says the children’s own stereotyping reinforces their situation. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published emerging research showing that from an early age children who live in poverty know they will achieve less.

The Foundation has brought together eight reports looking into the experiences and attitudes of children from different backgrounds. Together the documents represent the first phase of a major new JRF programme on education and poverty.

In the Round Up Summary of the work its author, Donald Hirsch, says from an early age social background influences the way children feel about school. At primary level those from poorer families are more likely to have negative experiences and feel “got at” by teachers. “This doesn’t necessarily mean teachers are prejudiced, but that low-income children find themselves in schools where the pressures are greater, and this reinforces prior disadvantages,” he says.

The Summary goes on to say that children from all backgrounds see the advantages of school but deprived children are more likely to feel anxious and unconfident about it. Out-of-school activities, it says, can help them build self-confidence through improving learning relationships, while children from better-off backgrounds benefit greatly from the access to more structured and supervised activities. One crucial difference highlighted in the research is in the area of homework. Poorer children are less likely to have space in which to do work and they do not get as much help from parents. This may be because poorer parents are under greater pressure or because they lack confidence in their own abilities and have bad memories of school.

The studies show only a quarter of students who receive free school meals achieve five good GCSEs or their equivalent compared to more than half the overall population in England. The research finds, too, that the gap between the outcomes of children from different backgrounds is wider in the UK than in most other similar countries. Donald Hirsch concludes, “We’re not talking about just a small group of children in ‘extreme circumstances’. The issues highlighted in this research affect one in four of our children.”