Learning materials: £1m fund kick-starts Help a Child to Learn campaign

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

A £1 million Help a Child to Learn campaign has launched to supply learning materials for disadvantaged pupils who do not have access to these at home.

It comes as a survey of teachers revealed that the most common items which pupils are lacking include paper and pens and pencils, reading books, and maths and science equipment.

One respondent to the survey described pupils submitting work or drawings done on flyers or sheets of toilet paper.

The National Education Union (NEU) and the Daily Mirror are behind the new campaign, which has begun contacting those schools with the highest numbers of free school meal pupils in England and Wales in order to offer support.

The NEU has established an initial £1m fund to support the campaign and schools will be offered funding of £500, £1,000 and £1,500 depending on pupil numbers. The union is also seeking donations from the public.

The funding is to enable schools to purchase stationery for learning at home. The fund will be distributed by campaign partner Viking in the form of a voucher and schools will be free to choose the materials that will have the most impact on disadvantaged students' engagement with learning.

The campaign launch comes after an NEU survey of more than 2,600 of its members reveal that 95 per cent are teaching students who have limited or no access to learning resources at home; 75 per cent said that access to practical materials would boost engagement and self-confidence when learning from home.

One respondent to the survey said: “Pupils would bring in ‘work’ or ‘drawings’ which were on flyers or sheets of toilet paper in biro due to lack of resources at home.”

Another added: “I have to print and provide paper packs for home learning for all pupils in my class. We have also supplied them with a pencil, sharpener and rubber so they can complete these packs.”

A third said: “My class has 90 per cent Pupil Premium children, in an area of high deprivation. The children don’t have pens, paper or appropriate devices.”

The most common items which pupils are struggling to access are paper and pens and pencils, reading books, and maths and science equipment. Respondents also noted problems with buying specialist materials for exam subjects, such as sheet music and materials for art and design.

The survey also reveals that many teachers are paying for these supplies themselves. Almost half (48 per cent) said they have bought pens and pencils for their pupils, 25 per cent have bought glue sticks, 32 per cent paper and 29 per cent reading books.

Just before the pandemic, the household income statistics (for 2018/19) showed that 4.2 million children (around 30 per cent of all UK children) live below the poverty line, with 72 per cent of these in working families.

There is widespread evidence that the pandemic will dramatically increase this number. Indeed, the NEU survey found that 55 per cent of the teachers responding have seen an increase in child poverty at their school or college since March 2020.

The NEU recently put its support behind the Sutton Trust’s call for government to agree an immediate Pupil Premium boost of £750m to support pupils.

Commenting on the campaign launch, Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Pupils cannot learn if they do not have paper to write on and pens to write with. They cannot engage in creative learning if they lack crayons and glue. Cardboard and toilet paper are not substitutes for exercise books.

“Our Help a Child to Learn campaign is driven by the level of need NEU members see in their pupils. The sheer scale of child poverty and its effects on children’s learning is heart-breaking. It should not be necessary, in 2021 to supply pupils with the very basics they need to participate in remote learning, but it is necessary and this campaign will rise to the challenge.”

Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Bousted added: “This is a stark picture of life in Covid Britain, where child poverty has significantly worsened since the first national lockdown in March 2020. School leaders, teachers and support staff are doing everything they can to support the students in their care. Our members are deeply affected by and anxious about the level of need they witness and the fact that financial pressure is being visited upon more families.”

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