The impact of poverty on young children’s experience of school - Goretti Horgan, University of Ulster (2007).

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Save the Children

This report will be of interest to tutors and teacher trainees with an interest in the following issues:


  • School admissions and neighbourhood disadvantage
  • Poverty, Free School Meals and the hidden costs of education
  • The impact of selective education and academic testing
  • Teaching styles and student voice
  • Professional attitudes to parents


The report outlines the findings of a study that compared the impact of poverty on Primary age pupils in schools located in areas of high and low deprivation in Northern Ireland. Horgan concludes that there are critical differences in the way that pupils attending advantaged and disadvantaged schools experience schooling and that these differences are evident from a very early age:

For children growing up in poverty, life itself is a struggle and their keen awareness and worries about non-educational issues - like clothes for non-uniform days, the walk to and from school, vandalism and so on - mean they have less energy to focus on their education. By contrast, better-off children can take life for granted and can concentrate on using education as a way to get on in the world without worrying about material things (page 57).

Interestingly, Horgan notes that teachers in advantaged schools are more "fatalistic" about the social exclusion generated by the hidden costs of schooling than teachers in more disadvantaged schools, where considerable time is often spent trying to ensure that additional costs are minimised.

Horgan defines advantaged schools as having 3-14% of pupils in receipt of Free School Meals and disadvantaged schools as having 50-75% of pupils in receipt of Free School Meals. Although Horgan found that pupils at both types of school had quite similar aspirations (see table on page 16), she also found that pupils in disadvantaged schools increasingly identified more negative reasons for engaging in education than pupils in more advantaged schools. She suggests that boys as young as nine are already showing signs of disengagement:

The evidence from this study points towards the interaction of educational disadvantage faced by children growing up in poverty, the difficulties faced by teachers in disadvantaged schools and gendered socialisation of children leading to boys particularly being failed by the education system (page 57).

Interview data that supports this analysis is presented in a table on page 21.

Throughout the report Horgan locates the discussion very clearly in a policy context that emphasises the importance of intervening to disrupt an intergenerational cycle of poverty and educational disadvantage.


Louise Gazeley

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