Fancy dress days and school trips can stigmatise poorer pupils, charity Children North East (CNE) found as part of its investigations into poverty in schools.
Headed by Sara Bryson, CNE policy and research manager, the charity spent a year shadowing pupils in two primary and two secondary schools in the north east.
Ms Bryson told Schools Week: “We discovered a lot of policy and practices in schools, mainly unintentionally, that discriminate and stigmatise disadvantaged pupils.”
The “invisible” discrimination includes asking children to bring in ingredients for home economics, which may be too expensive, to pupils being punished for not having the correct PE equipment, such as football boots.
The wording of school letters were also found to be problematic. For example, some schools wrote that “if not enough people pay towards this trip, then no one can go”, which “victimised” children of families unable to contribute.
To tackle this, CNE created a toolkit, “Poverty Proofing the School Day”, which includes an individually tailored action plan, put together using pupil responses to questions about poverty.
Teachers are given two-hour training sessions with ongoing support to implement the action plan.
Ms Bryson said: “Common changes schools make include not setting homework online. Or if they do, making sure they provide enough opportunities to use school equipment to do so, which isn’t during pupil playtime so they don’t miss time with friends.
“We also looked at uniform policies. Some schools, when they become academies, change the uniform colour. If they are doing that, can pupils buy it in Asda for a couple of pounds?”
The scheme, which has so far been completed by 19 schools in the north east, costs £4,050 per school. Governor training, related to the accountability of pupil premium spending, is also available.
North Lincolnshire Council ran a pilot using the approach with six schools and is looking to roll it out in all its schools. Nancy Malkin, school improvement officer, said the biggest success was making poverty a “visible” issue.
“As a consequence, the project also changed the ethos of the schools,” she said. “They now poverty-proof everything on a daily basis.”
Kenton School, in Newcastle, also implemented the project and echoed the impact on attendance and attainment.
Principal Sarah Holmes-Carne said attendance for free school meal children had risen 5 per cent from 88 per cent over the past two years.
But Ms Holmes-Carne said the school was already improving because of its pupil premium spend. Poverty-proofing had “uncovered another layer” and pushed the school to further improvements, she said.