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England: How do we help the poorest children beat the odds?

For generations, we have struggled to help the most disadvantaged children in the poorest parts of England. And we have done a great deal – but not enough. We need to find approaches that can make a real and sustained difference, so no child’s life chances are blighted by being born into poverty.

Deprivation can have a devastating impact on a child. If they start at a disadvantage, schooling often does little to level the playing field. There are clear links between deprivation and poorer exam scores, reduced employment opportunities, poor health  in adulthood and increased criminality.

Why does this happen?

There’s no simple answer – but no inevitable failure either

It is not inevitable that all children from poor families or poor areas will do badly. Some kids will beat the odds.

A child’s environment is a complex ecology, where factors – schools, families, communities, wider social and cultural contexts – interact to produce different outcomes for different children.

Schools can certainly play a vital role in mitigating poverty’s impact on a child, but a single institution cannot give a children all the support and skills they need to thrive.

The important of place

As President Obama said: “if poverty is a disease that affects an entire community, in the form of unemployment, violence, failing schools and broken homes, then you cannot just treat those symptoms in isolation, but instead you have to heal the entire community”.

Or in other words, when the fabric of a community gets threadbare and the area becomes deprived, it is much harder for the children living there to do well. For them to grow up happy and healthy, the community itself must be stitched back together.

United for children

Informed by the Harlem Children’s Zone project in the US, Save the Children is exploring a UK version of children’s zones. The focus is on children aged 0-18 living in a 100-block area and the objective is to help disadvantaged children from one of the US’s most deprived communities’ secure educational and economic opportunities.

The approach provides continuous support for children from cradle to career, across all areas of their lives. It aims to unite a community undera common cause to improve outcomes for children. This could be
particularly timely in England – building on children’s centres, extended school clusters, school federations and multi-agency working and also capitalising on new opportunities for local action.

We need to be bold in exploring new ways to tackle the scandal of educational inequality and to ensure that poverty is no longer a barrier to children fulfilling their potential. Instead of helping some kids to beat the odds, we need to change the odds altogether.

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