Siobhan has been headteacher of a Primary school in Morecambe, Lancashire for 14 years. Morecambe is a coastal town with pockets of extreme deprivation from which the school’s intake is drawn. The school has established outstanding Pastoral Support systems and makes excellent use of links with other agencies and sectors. Siobhan works as a member of the County LSCB on projects to improve multi-agency practice, and on her local mental health transformation plan steering group. She contributes articles for TES on mental health and educational issues and gave written and verbal evidence to the recent joint Education and Health Parliamentary Inquiry into the role of schools in promoting positive mental health for children and young people.
This week, Mike talks to Siobhan about her experiences of working in this environment and how the school she leads seeks to ‘close more than one gap’.
How does poverty affect your children and families?
Siobhan points out that you can’t get away from poverty – it pervades everything. She believes that the concept of ‘closing the gap’ is unhelpful because it appears to be suggesting that there’s only one gap. It’s as if the right intervention or support will suddenly ‘magic away’ all of the issues. There is a constant pressure from poverty and the gap widens all the time.
Siobhan mentions the children who have access to a cultural experience bank and social capital that others simply don’t access at all.
“…just going on walks with their parents and talking about the Autumn leaves – these are daily experiences our children don’t get…”
Their vocabulary is severely limited, their life experiences are limited, their ability to take turns and socialise with people is limited but on top of all this, they are hungry and tired, they may have lived with several adverse childhood experiences – all of these things add up to an absolute chasm for these children.
There is a growing group of in-work parents who are struggling financially, particularly because of the complex way benefits are worked out.
What can educational provisions do to help families who are living in poverty?
Siobhan believes we first and foremost have to have hope and optimism.
“The way out of poverty is through a high quality education.”
Siobhan’s school has a set of 5 values which she uses to help all the children. This means that when you visit her school, you will see happy children who are engaged by their teachers and their lessons.