Last Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Cost of the School Day – understanding and addressing financial barriers at school

What is this?

​​The Cost of the School Day project at Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland supports schools and local authorities to understand the barriers that costs create for children from low income families and take action to remove barriers and ensure equity for all. This exemplar describes one particular approach to Cost of the School Day (COSD) taken in Dundee City which has helped to support school and local authority level improvement.​

Who is this for?

​This exemplar will be useful to all practitioners working in schools.

School costs can put pressure on low-income families and put children and young people at risk of missing out on opportunities and feeling different, ashamed and stigmatised. Many schools are working hard to minimise costs and ensure equal access to opportunities but low incomes and unaffordable costs remain a key barrier to participation and learning.

How to use this exemplar to improve practice

  • ​Apply what you have learned about the COSD approach in one local authority area in your context.
  • ​Reflect on child poverty levels and potential financial barriers to learning and participation in your context.
  • Consider which of the elements described in this exemplar might support similar improvement in your context.
  • Become aware of the range of resources and learning available to support cost audits and consultation with children and families and apply in your context.​

Improvement questions​

  • What’s the cost of your school day? How much might it cost a family in your school to fully participate across the school year? Which costs might place the greatest pressure on families on low incomes?
  • What barriers might children and young people from low income households face throughout the school day?
  • ​Reflecting on SIMD data, free meal entitlement and your own knowledge, who is at risk of missing out on learning and wider opportunities? How much do you know about the impact on children and families of costs in your school? How could you find out more in an ethically robust and appropriate way?
  • What support is available for families on low incomes in your school and how aware are they of it? How might this awareness be improved?​​

Download(s)/ External links​

PDF file: The Cost of the School Day (Dundee) report

PDF file: The Cost of the School Day Toolkit Wide variety of resources which will support consultation on costs and financial barriers with colleagues, children and families and help to develop interventions to reduce costs, increase participation, minimise income stigma and support families.

PDF file: Cost of the School Day Practice Insight: School Uniform This Practice Insight paper presents a range of impactful examples from schools helping families to access school uniform in an affordable and non-stigmatising way.

​The Cost of School – full film (18 mins) and trailer (3 mins) from NHS Health Scotland explaining why addressing child poverty in schools is important and sharing insights, approaches and tools to support solutions at both local authority and school level.

Explore this exemplar

What was done?​

CPAG in Scotland has been working in Dundee since 2016, funded through the Scottish Attainment Challenge to support schools and Dundee City Council to understand common financial barriers at school and take action to reduce them.

  • Cost of the School Day (Dundee) report. This COSD report is based on research with children, young people, staff and families in 15 Dundee schools, shared citywide to develop common understanding of local challenges and potential ways forward.
  • Ongoing support for all schools is provided to develop and implement COSD action plans based on consultation with their school communities
  • Whole school child poverty and COSD professional learning sessions are provided.
  • Basic poverty and benefits advice training is provided for family school link workers.
  • A local COSD Practice Network has been developed for school staff to share challenges and effective approaches.
  • There has been ongoing work with children and young people on tackling poverty stigma in their own schools.​

Why was it done?​

Following on from Cost of the School Day (Glasgow) research​, training and resource development, Cost of the School Day in Dundee was a key recommendation of the 2016 Dundee Fairness Commission. It was decided to launch a citywide approach to "identify and remove key cost barriers so that all children and young people from low income households can fully engage in their education."

"Nearly a quarter of all children in Scotland (24%) are living in relative poverty" (1. Poverty and income inequality in Scotland: 2014-2017).​ ​Scottish Government projections (2​. Tackling child poverty delivery plan: forecasting child poverty in Scotland)​ suggest that, without significant action to reduce child poverty, levels could rise to 38% of all children by 2030/31. With child poverty rates high and forecast to rise further in coming years, child poverty is an issue for every school in Scotland.​

Poverty can limit what children and young people do and take part in at school. From uniform, travel and trips to resources, lunch, fun events and wider achievement activities, a range of costs exist throughout the school day - being unable to meet them can affect children's participation, their learning and their wellbeing.

However, whole school awareness of financial pressures and commitment to addressing cost barriers can lead to policy and practice changes which help to reduce financial barriers and relieve pressure on family budgets.​

What was the impact?​

There have been numerous policy and practice changes in schools across the city. Examples from school action plans include cheaper uniform suppliers, homework policies which take account lack of ICT access, greater consistency in lending resources, breakfast provision, free ‘ready to learn’ packs, ‘chuck it in a bucket' fundraising rather than requests for set amounts, trip subsidies, improved promotion of financial entitlements and many more. The subsequent impact on children and families is being explored through an independent evaluation.

In Dundee, over 300 staff who took part in professional learning sessions reported greater awareness of the impact of poverty on children and their families lives in and out of school, greater motivation and confidence to address financial barriers, and a better understanding of how to address this. Forums like the local Cost of the School Day Practice Network offer mechanisms for ongoing support and discussion with colleagues.

The coordinated city-wide approach to Cost of the School Day in Dundee has improved awareness of the issues. Project evidence has influenced local authority policy. In October 2018, responding to the findings of the Cost of the School Day (Dundee) report, Dundee City Council launched four bold Cost of the School Day statements of intent, proposing that:

  • No child or young person in Dundee will start school without a breakfast
  • No child in Dundee will miss out on their Primary 7 residential trip due to cost
  • All schools will develop a Cost of the School Day action plan by the end of session 2018/2019
  • All children and young people in Dundee schools will have access to an affordable school uniform

"These four statements of intent form the initial response from the council to a thorough piece of research by the Cost of the School Day project. We are determined to make Dundee a better city for all and the continuing work of the project will assist us in tackling the financial barriers faced by many families “
(Stewart Hunter, Children and Families Convener, DCC).​

​(1) Scottish Government publication: Poverty and income inequality in Scotland: 2014-2017​

(2) Scottish Government publication: Tackling child poverty delivery plan: forecasting child poverty in Scotland