The government has placed the raising of educational attainment at the heart of its 2014 to 2017 Child Poverty Strategy.
The document, published last week, reconfirms the government’s previous commitment to ending child poverty in the UK by 2020.
It maintains that work and education are the best routes out of poverty, but also outlines some measures to help disadvantaged families cope with rising living costs.
In the document, the government quotes figures showing that since 2010 the number of children aged under-16 in workless households has fallen by 290,000.
However, 3.5 million children are currently living in poverty and research published last month by Save the Children warned that this is set to get worse.
Its study, A Fair Start for Every Child, predicts that due to low real wage growth, continuing welfare cuts and increases to key living costs, a further 1.4 million children could slip below the poverty line by 2020.
Furthermore, the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) this week warned that the UK has a child poverty rate twice that of many other industrialised nations and called for a “fundamental shift” in the government’s approach.
When it comes to education, the strategy includes:
The Early Years Pupil Premium for three and four-year-olds.
The existing Pupil Premium policy, which now amounts to an additional £14,000 for children who are eligible throughout their school career
Parenting classes and providing free books to poor families.
The government also lists the impending SEN reforms as part of the strategy.
It also says that it is “supporting poor children to stay in education post-16 through training, Apprenticeships, Traineeships, and better careers advice”.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “As part of the government’s long-term economic plan we are supporting more families into work, improving living standards and raising educational attainment.
“Work remains the best route out of poverty and with the economy now growing again we have more people in work than ever before, as well as fewer children in workless households than at any time since records began. These children now not only have a wage-earner in the household, but perhaps even more importantly, they also have a role model to look up to.”
Schools minister David Laws added: “I am proud of the progress we have already made – investing £3.75 billion in the Pupil Premium, being used by schools to close the attainment gap and we have now extended the Pupil Premium to three and four-year-olds.
“In addition, from September all infant school children will receive a healthy meal for free, to make sure they are ready to learn and can get the most from their time at school.
“Poorer children are doing better than ever at school but more than six out of 10 still fail to secure good grades. We are determined to improve the prospects of all children so that they have the best possible opportunities later in life.”
The Department for Education said that poor children are now doing “better than ever at school”, with the proportion of students on free school meals getting five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths now at 38 per cent.
However, Enver Solomon, director of evidence and impact at the NCB, said there had to be a “fundamental shift in policy”.
He explained: “The experience of growing up in the UK today is dramatically polarized between the haves and have-nots, with many children’s lives blighted by daily hardship and severe disadvantage. The government has rightly recognised the importance of tackling the root causes behind this but the strategy falls short of setting out a comprehensive cross-Whitehall approach that makes tackling child poverty a top priority across government with every department held to account.
“In particular, the lack of a greater link up with the Department of Health is a missed opportunity especially given the well-documented bad health outcomes for poor families. Education, living standards and work all matter but tackling health inequalities for the poorest and local capacity-building strategies for deprived neighbourhoods are equally important.
“There needs to be a fundamental shift, so that tackling the pernicious poverty that exists today is a collective joined up priority for all decision-makers.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The government can have as many consultations over targets for ending child poverty as it likes, but they are meaningless since it is failing to meet its own targets.
“Poverty is the biggest cause of children failing to do well at school. Any government that truly cared about tackling the underachievement of disadvantaged children, including poor White working class children, would make tackling child poverty its highest priority.”
Download the Child Poverty Strategy at http://bit.ly/1x4y7GG