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An evaluation led by NHS Health Scotland has found that action to reduce school-related costs is effective in helping more schools to be sensitive to poverty and more children to participate in school.

The scale of poverty in Scotland has been laid bare in recent figures highlighting a 22% rise in food bank use (A Menu for Change, Jan 2020). A quarter of children are living in poverty in Scotland due to low incomes and high living costs. And we know that children living in poverty are more likely to have lower educational attainment compared to more affluent families. Some schools and local authorities have adopted the Cost of the School Day approach to tackle this.

The evaluation found numerous examples of change prompted by the Cost of the School Day programme, including policies which make school more affordable, and actions that reduce or remove the cost of breakfast and after-school clubs, trips and learning materials.

Dr Megan Watson, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at NHS Health Scotland, said:

 “The programme is working to change practice and policy in schools and local authorities to help all children benefit from their education; and it raised awareness and understanding among school staff of the strong link between affordable school costs, equity in attainment and better health and wellbeing.

 “It’s not right that poverty affects how well children do in school. Helping all children to make the most of their school day alleviates stress on families and enables more children to participate, learn and thrive. This evaluation highlights that the Cost of the School Day programme can help make this happen. It can make a real difference to children’s education.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has confirmed the Scottish Government will continue its support for the Cost of the School Day programme over the next two years with £186,000 of funding. He said:

“Improving the education and life chances of all our children and young people, irrespective of their background, is one of the defining missions of this Government.

“The Cost of the School Day (CoSD) programme has an important part to play in relieving school-related financial pressures on families. I welcome the findings of this evaluation which show the programme has resulted in positive changes for many families and children affected by poverty.

“I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government will continue its support for the CoSD programme over the next two years with £186,000 of funding.”

The evaluation of CPAG in Scotland's Cost of the School Day programme is a result of partnership work between NHS Health Scotland, Scottish Government, Dundee City Council and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health. Such collaboration is key to addressing public health challenges in Scotland and is an approach that will be at the centre of the new national body for public health in Scotland when it forms on 1 April. Public Health Scotland will have unified leadership for public health across national and local government.

Children and Young People Spokesperson Councillor Stephen McCabe said:

 “Tackling child poverty remains a top priority for Local Government – every day take we steps across all our essential services to ensure we support children and young people affected by poverty and tackling the root causes. 

“We welcome the findings of this evaluation which show that across Scotland there have been wide ranging changes within schools to become more poverty sensitive with number of cost barriers removed both in and out of the classroom. We will carefully consider the recommendations from this report as we continue this vital work to ensure our schools are fair and equitable to all.”

To support the evaluation findings, CPAG in Scotland has launched a new film that brings to life the impact of reducing costs associated with learning at school. Speaking candidly about their own experiences, a variety of pupils explain how being able to go to breakfast and after-school clubs has supported them to work hard in class, tap in to their skills and talents in extra-curricular activities, and feel included. Pupils also explain how being able to take learning materials home that would otherwise be unaffordable helps to consolidate their learning when they have more time.

 Sara Spencer, Cost of the School Day Project Manager said:

“At CPAG in Scotland we’re delighted that the evaluation shows the impact that Cost of the School Day is having on school and local authority child poverty awareness, policy and practice. We know that unequal access to learning and opportunities at school can mean unequal outcomes for children, but we’ve seen that action by schools and local authorities to address school costs can and does help clear the way of the daily financial hurdles some children face.

“We are looking forward to working with all of our partners in the future to build on the great work already happening, to use the learning from this evaluation and to tackle together some of the challenges and new areas of work that it suggests.”  

As part of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, local authorities and NHS Boards must jointly report annually on the activity they are taking, and will take, to reduce child poverty.

NHS Health Scotland is helping to demonstrate the difference the Cost of the School Day programme can make to children from low-income families by sharing short briefings from the evaluation showing what schools and local authorities can do to do tackle financial barriers to attainment.

As well as the new film about tackling learning costs at school, CPAG in Scotland provides other free resources for school staff, parents and children to take quick and simple actions from, including a toolkit and short films showing how schools have been making uniforms more affordable.