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Appoint poverty ‘tsar’, says ex-children’s commissioner

The government should appoint a poverty tsar, have a children’s minister attend cabinet and extend free meals to all children in settings with the greatest need, a former children’s commissioner has said.

A new report from Anne Longfield’s Centre for Young Lives think tank and Child of the North project also called for a government plan to support schools to reduce the impact of poverty and a child poverty unit in Downing Street.

The report includes new data from more than 60,000 pupils collected by the Connected Bradford project – set up to link education data with that of health, social care and other parts of local government.

It found 57 per cent of those identified as persistently absent in the district were eligible for free school meals. Eligible children were also three times more likely to become persistently absent at some point.

It added that universal meals for all pupils “should be a long-term ambition for all schools, but we should start by initially targeting schools in local areas with the most disadvantaged children and young people”.

The report also said automatic registration of eligible families for free school meals “should be implemented immediately given that 11 per cent of total eligible pupils are not registered for means-tested FSM”.

The government should also re-establish a poverty unit in Downing Street. The last one was scrapped in 2016.

Children’s minister should attend cabinet

A poverty tsar and cabinet-level minister for children and young people must also be appointed to “drive reform” with the “authority to challenge policymaking at all levels”.

It should be a voice “direct from the front line who has experience of working within education settings”.

The report also said schools had become “anchor institutions within many disadvantaged areas throughout the UK”.

Anne Longfield

But the need to address problems outside school gates “makes it difficult to help children thrive educationally”.

Schools should have access to more pastoral support, family workers, educational psychologists and youth workers.

There should also be breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, extended school opening, enrichment activities and holiday play schemes for all primary school age children.

Longfield said school funding was “being squandered because the effects of poverty are not being addressed as an integral part of educational provision”.

“Schools should no longer have to use sticking plaster solutions to tackle poverty.”

Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, has called for targeted interventions to cut the attainment gap and support poorer pupils.

Writing for Schools Week, he said “a joined up anti-poverty strategy and more public spending will improve educational outcomes, and better educational outcomes are key to growth and productivity, which in turn means the strategy will pay for itself”.

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