Some children are so deprived it can be incredibly hard for schools to counteract the impact - ATL president
10 September 2009
Children from some of our poorest communities start school with such a huge weight of deprivation on their shoulders, it can be incredibly hard to counteract the effects, according to Lesley Ward, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).
Speaking at the president's reception in London tonight (Wednesday), Lesley Ward said: "There are perfectly healthy children who enter school not yet toilet-trained. Children who cannot dress themselves, children who only know how to eat with a spoon, and have never sat around a table to enjoy a home-cooked family meal. Children who don't know who will be at home when they get home - if anyone. Children who don't know who the father figure is in the home from month to month."
She recounted: "I know of a pupil who watched, from the classroom window during a lesson, his house door being kicked in and his dad being led out of the door in handcuffs."
Lesley Ward said there is some very ignorant stereotyping of why families live in poverty. The reality is that six in ten poor children live in families where someone works. "That's shocking isn't it - you go out to work, perhaps two or even three part-time jobs, and you are still living below the poverty line. Life mirroring the times of Dickens."
She said: "Shared poverty gives rise to shared attitudes, which make learning difficult. I am talking here about the worst type of poverty in education - and that is the poverty of aspiration. Attitudes like, 'Why should he stay at school? I didn't and I manage.'"
"I sent a first reading book home with a little girl, who was absolutely bursting with pride, for her to share with her mum, and was told, 'It's not my job to listen to her read - it's yours.'"
Lesley Ward said: "But what really makes me bloody mad is the idea that teachers are complacent or resigned about this. I, and thousands of other teachers, lecturers and support staff, spend our professional lives trying to help our pupils overcome these handicaps. As a teacher there is nothing better than seeing your kids succeed. To see the light come on when a child in reception reads their first book, or a secondary pupil receives good A-level results."
She concluded: "The best answer to better achievement is to get rid of poverty of all kinds for all children - financial, aspirational and emotional."
Notes to editors
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 160,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.
ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.
ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.