The link between poverty and educational failure has concerned many both in government and research for many years. If poverty in general does lead to educational failure, does this mean that those children born into poverty are born into a vicious circle – the cycle of poverty – that they cannot get out of? Born into poverty, poorly prepared if prepared at all for pre-school, failure when compared to others at primary school, inability to access the full curriculum at secondary school and failure when exams are taken. With such a background, how can a child born into poverty break out of the cycle?Poverty


The Carolina Abecedarian Project was a controlled experiment that was conducted in 1972 in North Carolina, United States, by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute to study the potential benefits of early childhood education for poor children to enhance school readiness. It has been found that in their earliest school years, poor children lag behind others, suggesting the fact that they were ill-prepared for schooling. The Abecedarian Project was inspired by the fact that few other early childhood programs could provide a sufficiently well-controlled environment to determine the effectiveness of early childhood training.


Children from disadvantaged backgrounds need to do more than just attend a good school to boost their educational achievement, a report has claimed. It claimed that just 14% of the difference between an individual’s performance was down to the quality of the school. Former Schools Minister, Lord Adonis, said that one of the Labour government’s (1997 to 2010) main priorities while they were in government was helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds. He suggested that one of the former government’s achievements was the provision of more activities outside of school which helped children develop their confidence. With the current large cutback in government spending, the fear is that these projects will be easy targets for cuts.


The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has studied the link between poverty and failure or success at school. JRF found that children in poverty face greatly reduced educational prospects and future life chances. They found that this is the conclusion not just of social policy experts and government statisticians, but of young children themselves. Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) shows that children are aware of such outcomes from an early age and that their own stereotyping reinforces these differences. This study summarises the messages from the first eight projects in the JRF’s Education and Poverty programme and looks at the experiences of children from different backgrounds and their attitudes to education.


It concluded that low income is a strong predictor of low educational performance and that children from different backgrounds have contrasting experiences at school. Less advantaged children are more likely to feel a lack of control over their learning, and to become reluctant recipients of the taught curriculum. This influences the development of different attitudes to education at primary school that help shape their future.


Their findings were supported by research done by the BBC in September 2007. The study found that poor children are as much as two years behind their peers in educational achievement by age 14 and heading for a “downward spiral”. Research for the ‘Campaign to End Child Poverty’ says children from poor homes are up to nine months behind their peers before they even get to school.


For many children living in poverty stricken areas, private schools are not a likely option. The average cost to attend a private school is £10,000, which for those living in poverty is an impossible dream. The next option for them is good state schools, where they are going to be at a disadvantage again because of the ‘postcode lottery’. This is a system which favours those with perceived better postcodes and critics claim it allows schools to best select their future intake so that the school’s reputation is enhanced or maintained.


UK Government set a target of 2020 to eradicate child poverty. The JRF believe that an extra £4.2bn a year will have to be spent on tax credits if the government is to meet its target of halving child poverty by 2015. In 2010, the JRF claimed that 2.3 million children were living in poverty. The government had set a target for 2010 of 1.7 million – but this was set in 1999 well before the recession kicked in to the UK’s economy. With wholesale cuts in government spending in most areas, child poverty campaigners claim that the figure will actually go up and that the 2020 deadline for child poverty eradication will be missed by a long way.


Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex

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