Cost of home schooling falls heaviest on low-income families, survey finds
Families who were more worried about money were more likely to say they found it difficult to continue their children’s education
The cost of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic has fallen heaviest on children from low-income families, a survey has found.
Forty per cent of low-income families in Scotland who responded to a survey from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said that they were missing at least one essential resource to support their children’s learning.
One third of those already most worried about money have had to buy a laptop, tablet or other device to make sure their children could take part in online schooling.
The survey of 3,218 parents and carers and 1,074 children and young people across Scotland was conducted in May.
Findings suggest that families who were more worried about money were more likely to say they found it difficult to continue their children’s education under the current schooling arrangements.
Parents and pupils told of problems sharing devices between siblings and meeting the expense of printing worksheets.
One 12-year-old girl wrote: “I share the desk top with my brother for his homework too. He is in primary school. I miss my laptop from school because I am dyslexic and it helps me more. I miss my teachers because they can help me better, especially when I’m not confident in what I’m doing. I miss my friends a lot.”
Pupils who were in regular contact with their teachers were the most likely to report they were doing a lot of work.
A mother of three who has experienced difficulty upgrading her device to meet requirements said her nine year old daughter had missed out on staying in touch with her class.
Another parent said: “We don't have a tablet or computer. Only mobile phone which is our only contact source too. The screen is very small. My child has found it difficult to concentrate with the small screen. Having a laptop or tablet would have been very helpful.”
Those most likely to say they were enjoying the learning from home experience were much less likely to report having money worries or lacking resources, the survey found.
Most parents supported a gradual return of school and said that the primary emphasis in the initial stages of a return should be the emotional impact the lockdown has taken on children.
One mother said: “I’d like the school to meet them where they’re at, not where they are expected to be academically. Gentle return with no pressure. Recognition that reintegrating with others may be overwhelming for some time and require an adjustment period.”
The additional cost of meals was also raised by parents. Of those in receipt of free school meals, 82 per cent said that direct cash payments were the best option for keeping children fed.
CPAG welcomed the Scottish and UK governments’ announcements on continuing free school meal provisions through the summer holidays.
But the charity urged the UK Government to increase the child benefit by £10 per week and called on the Scottish Government to use the school clothing grants and Best Start payments mechanism to boost money getting to low-income families.
John Dickie, director of CPAG in Scotland, said: “Parents across Scotland have been working really hard to support their children’s learning from home but families struggling on low incomes are facing huge extra stress, worry and costs.
“The families who can least afford it are having to spend more on school resources.
“The evidence is clear that alternatives to free school meals, and cash alternatives especially, are invaluable for families. The First Minister’s commitment to continue free school meal provision through the summer holidays is hugely welcome and we now urge all councils to move to the cash payment model that is so popular with parents. But action to increase financial support for families more generally is vital.
“The UK government must increase child benefit as a matter of urgency and here in Scotland ministers must use the tools they have to provide immediate additional financial support to families, with one option being to use school clothing grant delivery to provide additional cash support to help families cope with the costs the pandemic has imposed.”
“This crisis means that even more families than usual are facing financial challenges as schools return with the new blended learning approach. Parents have told us what a difference digital and classroom resources and support make, both to their budgets and to their children’s learning. Government at every level must now commit to ensuring every child has what they need to fully take part in learning, whether that’s in school or from home.”