An extraordinary report from the Department for Children, Schools and Families paints a bleak picture of the life of children from poor homes who are taught in schools serving affluent areas. They are in such a minority that they are easily bullied by their richer classmates. As they roam the high streets of well-heeled towns their deprivation is starkly apparent to them because they walk by things they can't afford in shop windows. What can be done?
The report, "Pockets of Poverty", which includes a foreword by Sue Hackman, the chief adviser on school standards at the DCSF, says that one priority is to train teachers in these schools in how to help less affluent pupils. It is easier in schools in disadvantaged areas – where most of the pupils come into this category and thus teachers are more aware of what needs to be done. Obviously this is a start but there ought to be a vigorous anti-bullying policies as well, so no pupil can get away with, as Ms Hackman says, "inventing a range of abusive terms for poor pupils". This kind of treatment is akin to homophobic and racist bullying. Second, we need to examine the policies of the three political parties towards improving the lot of pupils on free school meals, the traditional yardstick for measuring who is poor. All parties support a "pupil premium" – paying a school more for taking in disadvantaged pupils. The Liberal Democrats' plan is the only one that is thoroughly costed – £2,500 for every pupil to come from scrapping Child Trust Funds and some tax credits. The Conservatives, who have not yet put a figure on the premium, rely on our old friend efficiency savings to pay for it. The trouble is, they will have to pay for so much it is doubtful whether they will be able to find enough savings. Labour wants to transfer an existing hardship fund to a locally determined pupil premium. That appears to assume that the money dedicated at present to the fund is wasted whereas – in some areas of the country – some innovative work has been begun by some authorities to reduce the impact of poverty. Finally, however, there is a question mark over whether the "pupil premium" in itself will be enough to change what appears to be a culture in top-performing state schools in affluent areas.