How is the cost of living crisis impacting on teachers and where can they find support? Find out, with Nic Ponsford.

The cost of living crisis is real – not just for students and families, but for many staff too. We know that things are worse now than during the pandemic: “A total of 1.6 million more households are struggling than the last time the study of 6,000 households reported nine months ago. It brings it to 4.4 million (one in six), the number of households estimated to be in ‘serious financial difficulties’ across the whole population.”1

The Autumn term threatens increasing inflation, energy costs and COVID infections. Before the summer break, I was told of families of four taking weekly showers. People are pawning possessions, cutting back on food and fuel. But let’s not go with the blanket phrases of ‘vulnerable’ and ‘disadvantaged’ – let’s reflect on those already the worst hit: humans described as having a low socio-economic status, those people on a low salary or Universal Credit, single parents, people in rented accommodation, disabled people and their families, and those families with three or more children – the intersectionality of these elements are even worse off.

 

I ran a poll on Twitter in June to gauge opinion, and found of those who voted, 86.7% said ‘Yes’ teachers and educators are worried about the cost of living. Comments often cited teachers being more worried about their students and families than themselves. For teachers and educators, petrol prices were the main issue, with living costs for support staff a close second.

For more detailed discussions by teachers on this, with solutions, check out this excellent thread by Year 6 teacher, Emily Weston.

Screenshot of Nic Ponsford's poll on X asking educators for their responses to the following: "Are teachers & educators working in education worried about the #CostOfLiving? For some research I'm doing pls RT." Yes on the poll has 86.7% of the 263 votes, No has 5.3% of votes and Kind of (details below) has 8% of votes.

Nic's anonymous poll on X (formerly Twitter), June 2022.

The state of the education system

We all know that our current state sector for education is transformational – and it should be – but currently, education can transform lives for the worse.

This includes universities favouring our middle classes, systemic racism and sexism, and we now have a cost of living crisis that impacts on our finances and mental health.

Reviewing the recent Pearson report (July 2022), there are two key issues for us to consider now:

“Half of teachers think poverty will be a barrier to pupil learning in their school in the next six months. In deprived schools, half of teachers think hunger will be a barrier to pupil learning in their school in the next six months.”

“40% of teachers think that the current education system does not effectively support aspiration and achievement among even advantaged pupils, with other minority groups disproportionately affected. Six out of 10 want mental health integrated into the curriculum for students too.” 2

In addition, the Institution of Fiscal Studies released its report ‘Education Inequalities’. Key points include:

“Despite decades of policy attention, there has been virtually no change in the ‘disadvantage gap’ in GCSE attainment over the past 20 years. “Pupils who were not eligible for free school meals are around three times as likely as their more disadvantaged peers to achieve above the expected level at age 11 and at GCSE. They were also three times more likely to attend one of the most selective higher education institutions.”3

The findings on race and ethnicity, sex, and regional nuances are very interesting. If we look at this against the recent A Level exams too, we see that location matters as much as a family’s income and their identity demographics. Understanding mental health solutions and your DEI footprint will be the foci of many schools and colleges over the Autumn term.

Where to start?

Inclusion: get your D&I together

In short, we know the education system does not offer equal opportunities or outcomes for all. A state-based system with public service money and millions of professionals working for positive pathways and access – as the evidence slaps us in the face – is transforming lives for the worse. So, to a solution. It all begins with education. The first steps are educating our decision makers and policymakers in what equality is, what their blind spots are and understanding how you personalise change to improve outcomes. The second is understanding how bias and privilege impact – then changing that for good.

As the education sector, we cannot improve the energy cap or protect young people from infections more than we have, but we can understand the need for education to be inclusive, to comprehend why diversity is important and why this goes beyond the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act (2010) to bring in socio-economic status – and the context that housing, health and income have on our young people before they go through the school gates. We also know the impact of DEI and mental health, especially over the summer holidays, where many children miss the routines and relationships of school time and teachers have hit burnout after exam season and two years of lockdown.

Mental health for all

There is a crisis in mental health for many students as their homes are hit with eco-anxiety, stress around living costs, mental illness of parents and carers. Returning to education, this term will be tough. This article illustrates that for most children “there is nothing wrong” with them – but transition, exam, bullying and mental health/illnesses of the adults around them will impact them in the run up to, during and post-summer.

Watch

If your parents struggled with their mental health, poverty or anything in between, the new BBC documentary with Joe Wicks on ‘Facing My Childhood’ illustrates the impact of parental mental health on children. We know that many adults are still undiagnosed with mental health issues and the current issues facing us all this summer will mean that not just temperatures will rise, but tempers and anxiety levels in homes across the country. Therefore, it is important for us to signpost support (and so much of it is free) that can help not only the young people but the grownups around them, too.

Links

In the meantime, here are some free resources for you: BBC Bitesize for students on mental health with Joe Wicks and Free Mental Health First Aid Kit to share with parents and carers (and staff too!)

Support

Mental health

Kooth – Kooth is a free, safe and anonymous place for young people to find online support and counselling. Trusted by the NHS and available 24/7. They are really keen on helping students facing transition anxiety and mental health of them or their families. As the only BACP (the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited digital platform in the UK, we are proud to signpost this incredible organisation, as we know that you’re in the safest of hands. Kooth is available immediately at your fingertips to provide discreet help via any internet-connected device.

Qwell – For adults, please check out the sister offering of Qwell. We recommend this for teachers, educators and parents alike.

Poverty support for teachers

Supermarkets: If you are a teacher and struggling with your cash flow, check out how supermarkets are helping in this article.

Family Action: We would recommend you visit Family Action and share details with your community.

For Single Parents: Gingerbread are our go- to for single parent support and please check out Single Parent Rights too.

Key statistics on poverty

  • 14.2 million people are in poverty, including 4.5 million children, 8.4 million working-age adults and 1.4 million pensioners.
  • Nearly half of people locked in poverty (6.9 million) are disabled themselves or live in a family with someone who is.
  • One in eight people in the UK is in persistent poverty: they are in poverty now and have been in poverty in at least two of the previous three years. Persistent poverty is highest for those in workless families and disabled families.
  • Around 8.2 million people are more than 25% below the poverty line, and 2.5 million people are less than 10% above it. 4

Now reread that and think about who the biggest scroungers in our society are.

We know there are national cries for systemic change and improvement from incredible people and charities, like these seen here, but think about what you can do to support your staff first.

References

  1. Booth, R (2022) ‘Worse than the pandemic’: price rises push more people into financial trouble,’ The Guardian, 11th July, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/jul/11/worse-thanthe-pandemic-price-rises-push-more-people-into-financial-trouble (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
  2. Pearson (2022) ‘School Report – Schools Today, Schools Tomorrow,’ Available at: https://www.pearson.com/en-gb/schools/insights-and-events/topics/school-report.html#:~:text=Schools%20Today%2C%20Schools%20Tomorrow&text=The%20Pearson%20School%20Report%20provides,to%20drive%20forward%20positive%20change. (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
  3. Inequality: The IFS Deaton Review (2022) ‘Education inequalities – Changes in education over time.’ Available at: https://ifs.org.uk/inequality/education-inequalities/ (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
  4. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2022) ‘Child Poverty,’ Available at:https://www.jrf.org.uk/people/child-poverty (Accessed: 7 September 2022)

Author

  • Nicole Ponsford

    Nic is passionate about creating a level playing field for everyone in education, but especially those from underserved groups. After 20 years working in education, Nic set up the Global Equality Collective (GEC) to address one of the biggest issues in education; - culture, diversity and inclusion.
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