Eliminating Economic Exclusion at Roots Federation
It would seem a reasonable assumption that children attending good or outstanding Nursery Schools will leave with comparable levels of achievement irrespective of their background. Sadly, our national data tells a different story. From a very early age socioeconomic factors play a significant part in predicting whether a child will succeed or not. At Roots Federation we believe that carefully thought-out education is the vehicle to promote social mobility. In the words of Nelson Mandela;
‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’
We do not underestimate our part to play in removing economic disadvantage and providing an equitable offer. This blog explores the strategies we have put into place in our Nursery Schools to ensure that we provide educational excellence for all.
Strategies we have implemented to Eliminate Economic Exclusion in our schools
• Staff Deployment
Children from affluent backgrounds are statistically likely to achieve more highly than their peers from poorer backgrounds. The government policy of offering 30-hour provision to the former group of children has inadvertently disadvantaged those from poorer backgrounds. Offering children more likely to succeed double the amount of time in quality settings has compounded an existing injustice and contributed to a widening of the attainment gap prior to children starting Reception. To try to address this injustice, we ensure that our staff with the highest levels of education themselves and greatest teaching experience are deployed to teach our children only eligible for 15 hours. Our aim is to promote accelerated progress for a group already disadvantaged by government policy.
• Developing Staff Awareness:
We need our staff to be fully aware of the impact of poverty, the barriers this can pose to achievement and the inequity that this can cause. All staff in the Federation receive training on the effective use of funding to support our families from less affluent backgrounds and this is now an embedded part of all inductions. We have introduced an ‘Equality and Diversity’ section of the weekly staff update to keep staff fully briefed on headlines from research raising awareness of how poverty can impact individual achievement.
Every child receives the gift of a school bookbag when they start with us. To support families with access to books we have developed community book sheds that are accessible to all families. We provide high quality picture books for the children in our schools as well as a basket of books for older siblings and a basket of books for grown-ups. Many families visit our book sheds over weekends or in the evening!
• Home Library
The national literacy trust reports that 1 in 5 children do not have a book of their own in their home. We make significant financial investment in gifting books to all children across the year and make a commitment that each child will leave us with a home library of at least 5 high quality books. An example of this is on ‘World Book Day’ where we have removed the focus from dressing up to a focus on immersing ourselves in a good book. The day is spent fully exploring the chosen book then all children are given a copy to take home and keep for their home library.
• Affordable Uniform
When our three schools federated, we reviewed our branding and introduced a dark green uniform.
This not only better reflected our ethos of a natural approach and our commitment to sustainability it also ensured that uniform without branding could be easily purchased at local supermarkets.
Whilst uniform is not statutory in our Nursery Schools many parents, for a variety of reasons, choose to put their children in uniform. For those wanting branded items we have an embedded system whereby parents donate their uniform back to the school when children leave. Families can now access a ‘Preloved Uniform Stand’ with no price tags; just a request for a small donation if they can.
• Outdoor Spaces:
A growing number of our children live in flats with little communal space. Safe outdoor spaces are starting to disappear as more affordable housing is being built. For many of our families with more than one child under five or who have children with additional needs, an open park can bring a range of challenges. We ensure that we maximise the use of all outside areas; we invest in staff training, we provide children with access to high quality wellies and waterproofs so that all outside areas space can be accessed in all weathers. A carefully mapped out rolling capital plan keeps our Nursery outside spaces safe, well-resourced and regularly regenerated.
• Community Outing and Enrichment Experiences:
In our schools we choose not to book a big, annual trip. Instead, we plan regular trips into the community or fund visitors into the schools to give children cost-free, real-life experiences. From our youngest babies all the way through to our Nursery school children there are a range of offsite excursions which teach them about their community alongside learning skills about staying safe (for example how to cross roads, follow instructions.) In the summer term alone, our children embarked on a number of experiences beyond their school including a trip to look at local art, a visit to see the neighbourhood allotments, a journey to post letters, an onsite visit from a farm and a visit to elderly residents in a care home.
• Developing Parental Expertise:
We fully believe that a parent is their child’s expert, and our role is to be the educational expert. We provide opportunities for staff to regularly gather information from expert parents and in turn we plan opportunities to share our educational expertise with them. One way we do this is through regular phone calls home; fortnightly for our 3-4 year olds. This collaboration builds strong partnerships and allows the keyperson and parent to learn from each other’s expertise to plan carefully for the individual child.
We have considered how to share curriculum information in an inclusive way. We found that face to face workshops presented many barriers; parental confidence to attend was certainly a factor alongside finding the right time of day to run the sessions. We now record presentations for parents so that they can watch on any device, including phones, at a time convenient to them.
• Educational Resources:
Our home visits have informed us that whilst there are very few children with no toys in the home many of our families are not always sure which items are the best educational resources for their child. We provide information, through our recorded sessions on how to use familiar items round the house to achieve learning outcomes rather than using what could be deemed ‘specialist equipment.’ Any resources that are not available in the house we provide; such as our lending library for fine motor control activities and our story sacks. These are all fully resourced bags including guidance on how to use as tools for learning. We provide parents with visuals used successfully in school so they can be used to support routines and learning at home.
• Healthy Eating:
Eating healthy foods has become a greater challenge for many of our families as the cost of food items continues to increase. Unfortunately, free school meal entitlement is not available to Nursery aged children. This becomes available when they turn statutory age in Reception; the year after they leave our schools. However, we discreetly support some families by either providing their packed lunches (including providing a packed lunch bag with a theme of the child’s choice) or by funding hot lunches. We also provide a fully funded snack area to ensure that all children can access fruit, vegetables and other items across the day. The snack areas have a core offer of standard fruit items supplemented by craca wider variety of fruit and vegetables that might be seasonal and beyond the usual offering at home. This ensures that no child in our setting is hungry and they leave us having had the opportunity to try some food items for the first time!
• Sun Lotion:
We always remind our parents to apply sun lotion during the warmer months to ensure that all children are safe in the sun. However, we have been aware that for some of our families who are desperately trying to cut costs a bottle of lotion can seem like a luxury. At our Nursery Schools we fund lotion so that staff can provide a top up for all children in the afternoon and we always put a table with some bottles of lotion outside so all parents can access lotion prior to their child starting the session.
Eliminating economic exclusion in all schools is not only an ethical imperative but an investment in the future of our society. At Roots Federation we are ambitious in our aims and committed to ensuring that every child, regardless of their family's economic status, has an equal opportunity to benefit from quality early childhood education. Through raising staff awareness of the injustice of poverty, investing financially in strengthening parent partnerships and providing inclusive access to information and resources we can break the cycle of economic exclusion and nurture a generation of confident, capable, individuals in our Federation and beyond…