Overcoming Barriers to Inclusive Education in Your School

Time to read: 8min 21 Jun 2022

71% of schools say that social inclusion causing limited access to the internet is their biggest barrier to adopting education technology (EdTech) solutions, according to our recent survey of 3,000 UK school staff.

Although a daunting obstacle for schools to tackle, there is a lot that schools can do to support low-income and low-social-economic status (SES) families to promote social inclusion.

In our latest whitepaper, which delves into the current issues facing schools and how the pandemic has changed the face of education in the UK, we give some advice for schools and school leaders. We advise schools to be aware of all of the external help that exists to support low SES families and to develop a trusting dialogue with parents to be able to confidently point them in the right direction.

Being able to successfully provide some level of assistance to promote social inclusion and break down the barriers to inclusive education for these families will help to improve the quality of education in your school, as well as empower more families to get on board with using your EdTech, opening up many avenues for improving your school efficiency.

Communicating with, engaging, and involving your parent base is key; you need to be able to understand the unique needs of the families with pupils who attend your school. However, this is easier said than done when you’re trying to build relationships with families who have limited access to the internet, which provides many of the main communication channels schools use today.

With this in mind, it’s important to be mindful of how you are communicating with low-income families and make sure you’re able to establish a dialogue between school and home. As parental engagement is vital to ensuring student success, it’s pivotal that you’re able to establish or improve a really strong parent-school relationship.

Having built this relationship, the door is now open for more constructive two-way communication where you can discuss families’ needs and formulate your plans for how your school can help.

Two-way communication

Pointing in the right direction

As we set out in our whitepaper, one of the most helpful things schools can do to overcome barriers to inclusive education for low SES families is to be aware of the third party help out there, and to point parents in the right direction.

Government schemes, bespoke charities, and reduced tariffs are just some examples:

1.     The UK government have a range of well-established schemes designed to provide a range of support to low-income families.

Allow your school to familiarise itself with the range of options that the government provides. Many families will already be aware of some of the help that’s available but may not be aware of everything.

If one of your school’s families could benefit from government assistance that they’re not yet aware of, pointing them in the right direction would do a lot for lending them a helping hand and improving relationships.

Keep an eye out for any new schemes that may be announced by the government; they often run campaigns designed specifically to help low-income families gain access to technology. The Get Help with Technology (GHwT) scheme, while it has now run its course, allowed disadvantaged children access to laptops and tablets to facilitate remote and home learning.

2.     Charities such as BBC’s Make a Difference

BBC’s Make a Difference campaign aims to tackle access to technology for education head on.

Make a Difference notices that many children from low-SES families are excluded from some aspects of modern education, as they cannot afford the costs of online learning (from internet tariffs to the costs of laptops and other technology).

So far, they’ve donated over 17,000 laptops, raised money to donate to schools, charities, and foundations, and provided resources designed to help low-income families have access to technology.

3.     Broadband for low-income families

Were you aware that many internet providers provide special discounted internet tariffs for low-income families?

Recent Ofcom data estimates that around 1.1 million UK households are struggling to afford their broadband bill but only 1% of eligible households have taken up special discounted broadband packages.

That leaves millions of families who could be receiving financial aid for their internet. If you know of any families who could be eligible for these tariffs, chances are they may not be aware. Alerting them to this kind of help will enable many disadvantaged children to get online and experience all that your school has to offer.

Providing help from within your school

Being aware of some of the external help that low-SES families can receive can go a long way in improving parent-school relationships by potentially facilitating a better quality of life for some families. But is there more that your school could be actively doing to provide assistance to these families in their education experience?

A child’s journey through school isn’t free; there’s always associated costs attached to different aspects of school life. From school meals to paying for trips, the costs rack up, but your school can provide some financial assistance to begin to overcome the financial barriers to social inclusion in education:

1.     Free school meals

Government data shows that 20.8% of pupils in the UK are eligible for free school meals (FSM). That’s around 1.74 million children, and this has increased by 17.3% from the previous academic year. Our own research has also shown that 16% of surveyed schools have seen an increase in FSM uptake in the past couple of years.

However, 14% of all pupils entitled to FSMs are not claiming them.

With such a large number of pupils not claiming FSMs when they are eligible, it’s important for schools to shine a light on and encourage FSM take-up, and why it’s worth it.

Some schools have found success in incentivising FSM sign-ups, offering useful prizes to those families who complete the FSM form. They could win anything from backpacks, books, and stationary to tickets to school performances and PE kits. Being able to give out useful prizes that will enhance a child’s learning experience will be sure to incentive parents who are yet to sign up for FSMs.

But it’s equally important for schools to be able to effectively manage their FSMs. Proper and accurate tracking and reporting of FSMs is vital for families who have signed up.

All too often, school catering services will write off unused FSM balances at the end of each day, accounting for millions of pounds worth of unclaimed dinner money. For a school to be able to wield a meal management system that ensures no penny is left unclaimed, this would surely appeal to parents who are yet to sign up for FSMs.

ParentPay’s meal management function not only allows parents to be able to claim all of their allocated FSM allowance, but provides an easy and anonymous process for children to claim their meals. Anonymising FSM collection reduces the stigma around being eligible for FSM by not broadcasting the fact to the rest of the lunch queue, further promoting social inclusion in your school.

Accurate tracking of FSM

2.     Pupil premium

Created with the purpose of improving education outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in schools, pupil premium is government funding provided to local authority-maintained schools, academies, free schools, and non-maintained special schools based on the number of eligible pupils and is given out to support them.

Schools are allocated funding based on the number of parents who register as eligible, so the importance of encouraging parents to sign up, and proper tracking of those who have, is crucial. This additional funding could make a difference in your school’s ability to breaking down some of the barriers to inclusive education.

Engaging with parents, educating them on the uses and benefits of pupil premium funding, and encouraging your parent base to let you know if their children are eligible will allow you to boost your pupil premium funding to deliver meaningful benefits for disadvantaged children.

Keeping parents involved in your school’s plans for their allocated pupil premium funding, especially when they know you’re actively trying to improve the education experience for their children, will do wonders for parental engagement, leading to improved standards of learning.

Some EdTech software may have built-in features to help you collect and manage your pupil premium funding, enabling powerful tracking and reporting capabilities for recording eligibility, leading to a reduction in admin burdens.

Schoolcomms, for example, has a built-in pupil premium funding checker which makes it simple for parents to determine their eligibility.

In turn, you can ensure every eligible family is included in the scheme and could raise thousands of pounds in extra support. And by removing the need for face-to-face meetings, the app also helps reduce the stigma around parents physically putting themselves forward for eligibility.

3.     Paying in instalments

With uniform and school meals, there’s already enough for families to have to fork out for their children’s school experience without even thinking about extracurricular activities like clubs and school trips. And these payments often come out all at once, making it even harder for low-income families to be able to stretch beyond the bare minimum.

Whilst considering the frequency and timing of these payment requests would do much to help families to manage the budgets and factor in these costs in advance, providing the option for some of these payments to be made in instalments will also help break down the barriers to inclusive education.

Allowing families to spread out these costs will make extracurricular activities far more accessible for families with less disposable incomes.

It’s likely that you will have some form of cashless payment software in place, as we know that only 1.6% of UK schools still only accept cash payments, so it’s worth checking if your software has the functionality for allowing instalment payments. For example, some payment solutions, such as ParentPay, allow flexible payments options, including the choice for paying in instalments.

Spreading out costs

Overcoming barriers to inclusive education

Understanding the needs of families at your school is important for being able to begin to overcome the barriers to inclusive education.

While there is a lot your school could be doing, you can’t do everything. So make sure you’re aware of what help is available for low-income families and engage with your parent base so that you can best understand how you can support their needs. Whether that’s pointing them in the right direction or implementing some positive changes in your school operations.

Being able to successfully support low-income families and ensure education is as inclusive as it can be in your school will enable your pupils to achieve more, facilitating stronger parent-school relationships.

Not only that, but the benefits of strong parental engagement can be seen in many aspects of school life, for both parents and schools. From improving motivation and classroom behaviour to increased funding for schools, parental engagement plays a crucial role in the academic and social development for children, as well as the efficiency of your school operations.

But discovering the perfect way to maximise parental engagement in your school can be difficult. You’ll need a solution that meets your school’s unique needs and is flexible enough to grow as you do.

That’s why we’ve put together our ‘Ultimate Guide to Parental Engagement‘, your step-by-step guide to improving and maximising parental engagement in your school.

Download your free copy to find out more:

Download the Parental Engagement guide

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