We talked to Lynn Williams, Head of Chandlers Field Primary School, about some of the challenges local families are facing since Covid-19, and why more children than ever need help with basics like school uniforms.
Q. Each year Walton Charity gives funding to schools across Elmbridge to support low-income families with school-related costs. How does this funding help pupils and families at your school?
We believe that everyone at our school should have the same opportunity to learn. The funding from Walton Charity enables children to take part in activities and trips that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. For example, each year we are able to offer funding, giving some children the chance to take part in a residential trip that they would have otherwise missed out on.
We are also able help a lot of families with everyday essentials like school uniforms and school shoes that they simply can’t afford. As a school we try to keep uniform cost down by selling iron-on badges rather than branded uniforms and offering a Uniform Exchange but there are still lots of families who need help.
Clothing, school shoes, pens and pencils are things that people often take for granted but can make a real difference to how children feel about going to school. Children just want to feel the same as everyone else. We don’t want anyone to feel different.
Q. What other kind of support do you offer to local families?
Everything we do, we do for the children. And many of the ideas for initiatives at the school come from the children themselves. Our Uniform Exchange not only helps families to access free uniform, it also encourages recycling and cuts down on waste which is important to our school.
This year, for the first time, we are introducing a gift of a stationery pack for children who are not able to get their own pens and pencils. It’s something we haven’t needed to do before.
During the Covid lockdowns and the school holidays we were also able to help with food for our families. There was often a delay between families registering for the government food box scheme and receiving supplies, so we stepped in and made sure families had food. We also helped with internet access and computers to support home schooling and opened the school to some of our most vulnerable children.
Q. Have you noticed an increase in demand for support since Covid hit last year?
There were families who were struggling before the pandemic so I wouldn’t say the demand is worse, but it is definitely more widespread. During the first lockdown we started to hear from (and about) families who have never needed help before. Our Family Support Worker has had to be proactive because many families who were struggling were reluctant (or didn’t know how) to ask for help.
Lockdown had a significant impact on lots of local families emotionally and financially. People lost their jobs or weren’t eligible for the furlough scheme. Some faced housing issues, and many struggled to cover the increased cost of being at home - especially the food and utility bills. We have helped a lot of families this year with back-to-school costs and expect to see the effects of lockdown and the pandemic, on some families, for at least another year.
Q. People are often surprised to hear that more than 12% of children across Elmbridge are living in poverty (according to End Child Poverty data). What is your experience of local poverty as a headteacher?
It’s worth remembering that the 12% is an average across the borough, there are some pockets within Elmbridge where poverty rates are much higher. A very high percentage of children at our school are eligible for Pupil Premium support and free school meals. It’s not what a lot of people would expect in Surrey.
Although we get Pupil Premium funding from the government to support the most vulnerable children at our school, there is a whole band of children who don’t quite meet the criteria but who need support. Funding from Walton Charity helps us to plug this gap and make sure no one at our school is left behind.
A child’s experience at primary school is paramount to their future. It sets them on a successful learning journey. We want to do everything we can to make sure it is a positive experience.
Last year Walton Charity gave Opportunities Funds to 11 local schools. We also funded catch up programmes, online learning and extra computers at schools across Elmbridge . Through our Back to School Appeal, we are helping more local children have a great start back to school this year.