Background In the context of child poverty and educational attainment in Scotland, the Cost of the School Day (CoSD) project privileged children’s voices to examine the potential influence of school policies and practices on the ability of children from low-income families to participate fully in the school day.
Methods A purposive sample of Glasgow schools (4 primaries and 2 secondaries) was chosen, to ensure representation across the socio-economic spectrum using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Pupils over 16 years could opt in to focus group sessions, and consent was sought from parents/carers of pupils under 16. Sessions used a vignette of a fictional character from a low-income household, allowing a safe degree of personal distance for pupils to explore sensitive topics. Groups, comprising pupils of mixed gender and free school meal entitlement, took part in two sessions. Initial sessions identified costs involved in attending school, and follow-up sessions considered potential actions needed by schools. 71 focus group sessions with 282 pupils were carried out. Deductive thematic analysis was carried out using QSR NVivo software.
Results Pupils identified substantial barriers to participation in the school day and suggested potential solutions. Key themes centered around transport costs, access to after- school activities and fun events, curriculum costs for subjects and textbooks, home schoolwork resources and school uniform costs.
Pupils highlighted that transport costs present barriers to holiday revision classes and after-school clubs and activities, and suggested providing clubs and supported study at different times of the school day to ensure transport is not an issue.
Curriculum costs for subjects, textbooks and specimen papers were raised, as well as internet and computing requirements for homework. Groups felt that schools should offer more than one way of completing homework.
School uniform emerged as a major cost leading to stigma and embarrassment, absence, or exclusions for non-compliance. Pupils felt more support is needed to ensure affordability, schools should signpost to the cheapest uniform suppliers, and systems are needed to avoid pupils feeling embarrassed.
Conclusion The findings support the argument that the way the curriculum is structured and implemented is more advantageous to pupils from higher-income households. The CoSD tapped into the Scottish Government policy cycle and resulted in changes to increase the school clothing grant across Scotland, and, at Glasgow level, to automate clothing grant payments to ensure uptake. The CoSD lessons are transferrable across education systems and are being further rolled out in 128 schools across the UK.
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