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Impact of Poverty on Education

A key theme that emerged from the discussions was the importance of personal commitment and positive attitudes as contributors to doing well at school.

Young people were aware that hard work, focus and commitment were needed, with studying and doing homework seen as necessary to help individual achievement at school:

“Getting good results in tests or like achieving something that you wanted to achieve.”

“Giving it 100% every day.”

Young people thought that individual skills and qualities as well as the quality of relationships with family contributed to doing well at school:

“If you have confidence in yourself it means you’ll do better because you will try harder. Where if you just have clothes and a bag and a pencil and pen then you’re not really confident.”

“You need to have in your head that you want to do well.”

“I put a good relationship with people in, like your house… you[r] Mum and Dad, like, if you’ve not got one then you’re not going to do well at school because you don’t want to go home so it’ll be worse for you.”

Several young people stated emphatically that poverty should not deter a young person in their educational ambitions. However, discussions suggested that poverty presented a number of challenges to young people doing well.

“It’s like the way you grow up that makes you want to learn or what kind of person you are as well. So [if] you’re growing up, like, in an environment where everybody helps you and that, like supports you and that, then you’re going to have a good future. But if you don’t then it’s not really going to be a good future. So I would say that’s important.”

“School uniform, getting food, going places with friends, money, finding a good house to live – you need a good house to keep you warm. Getting food and water, paying the bills, to be able to go out and spend lots of money and by things you want. But basics, like housing, they are maybe too dear. Pens, pencils and paper.”

“I had to get a pencil and then I couldn’t afford lunch. It’s not, like, I have exact money.”

“…because I think the most important would be the school uniform and then some people can only afford to buy school uniform and then a couple of weeks later they get pens and pencils and stuff.”

Young people questioned why students had to pay for materials for taught subjects:

“That’s the class. We pay to go to a class. They should be paying us.”

School uniform was discussed extensively. It was seen as a significant household cost:

“I think you should get one, at least one new shirt for the school year, and probably £10 off the blazer it will be hard paying, like, 40, it’s about £40 and all that.”

“For single parents as well, because my ma’s like, just a single parent. And like it’s hard because I have got my big sister, my wee brother and she has to pay for all of yous.”

But many agreed that school uniform was a good idea, allowing people to be the ‘same’ with uniforms being ‘equalisers’:

Girl 1: “Yeah, but if you dress as you want then you get slagged.”

Girl 2: “Because you’ve got to be constantly keeping up with all the trends and then you might be called like…”

Boy 1: “You’d be bankrupt by the end of the year.”

Girl 2: “You might get called, like, certain names for what you’re wearing.”

Teachers were viewed as a significant influence on young people’s learning:

“Like your teachers and, like, your guidey. Because, like at the end of the day they’re the ones that can help you get a job. They’re the ones that gives you a good reference when you leave here.”

Young people spoke of teachers who could identify their needs and who they could go to for extra support with their learning:

Girl 1: “If you don’t have them, you’ll not be able to learn stuff.”

Girl 2: “Somebody that’s caring and will listen to you… your ideas… Will help you if you need support.”

Girl 1: “Make you more confident.”

Girl 3: “They help you maybe if you have problems, they help you through the day, help you to learn. Stuff like that.”

Teachers were also seen to be proactive in supporting young people, especially when a student was not doing well or facing challenges:

“If you’re not doing well and your teacher notices, they’ll phone your pastoral care. If you’re being bullied or picked on or something happened at home then, they’ll help.”

However, one student noted:

“sometimes it’s not like good when teachers get involved because they take it too far.”