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New president of school leaders’ union NAHT describes impact of poverty on pupils and calls for ‘compassion, humanity and solidarity’ as school leaders vote on support for refugee pupils

Today (Fri 29 Apr), Dr Paul Gosling becomes President of school leaders’ union NAHT, at the association’s Annual Conference in Telford.

Dr Gosling will use his opening speech to highlight the impact of poverty on the children and families attending his primary school, Exeter Road Community Primary School in Exmouth, Devon, saying:

“When I became the headteacher of Exeter Road thirteen years ago, the percentage of children receiving free school meals at the school was around thirty per cent. In the January census of 2022, that figure was forty-five per cent. The rise in poverty in my school’s community is shocking and stark.

“There is also a growing number of our families who use the local food bank regularly. In fact, the local food bank has given me ‘emergency rations’ to pass on to families in crisis. When I first became a headteacher, I had not heard of ‘food banks’ outside the work done with the homeless in London, but now they are a vital part of our local community's support.

“Last Christmas, the Salvation Army provided Christmas presents for ten families at my school. Eight per cent of the children at Exeter Road had Christmas presents provided by charity! What century are we living in?”

Dr Gosling will also highlight the impact of the current cost-of-living crisis and rise in energy costs, saying:

“We have also recently noticed a rise in children coming to school tired as they have no heating on at home and find it difficult to sleep on cold nights.

“There is a massive amount of research and evidence that says that poverty is a huge barrier to children’s success at school; overcoming that barrier at Exeter Road is a significant part, and a growing part, of the work my staff undertake daily; this is before we even get to teaching the curriculum.

“This government's aspirations for education contained in its recent white paper can only be realistically achieved by tackling poverty. By largely ignoring the issue of child poverty, this government is not taking the success of all children in education seriously. Stop wasting time and energy talking about structural reform and get on dealing with the real issues in education!”

Dr Gosling will also reflect on his experiences welcoming refugee children from Afghanistan to his school last year – as delegates attending NAHT’s Conference are asked to vote on a motion calling for the UK to ‘play its part’ in providing a safe haven for refugees, and for the government to do more to support schools in helping refugee pupils.

“In the middle of the autumn term last year, our community warmly welcomed twenty-six children of refugees from Afghanistan into our one-form-entry school.

“Joy has come from watching these children, who were nervous and frightened at first, grow in confidence and develop friendships with the rest of the children in our school. On the cold, dark days of January and February, watching the children play together, even without a commonly spoken language, brings home the warmth and humanity that I know exists in many schools and academies across our country.”

Dr Gosling’s full speech is available on request. He will address Conference at 3pm on Friday 29th April.

The motion on refugee children will be presented later in the afternoon. It will read:

“The return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the terrible situation in Ukraine has shone a spotlight on the importance of demonstrating our compassion and humanity and the need to support all those who are seeking refuge. This includes children and young people who may need help through our education system.

“NAHT believes that all people have the right to safety, economic security, and religious and political freedom with access to health and education facilities within a society which protects those freedoms. Where these are threatened, diminished or denied, everyone should have the right to seek safety for themselves and their families and the UK should play its part in providing a safe haven for doing so.

“Many schools are well practised at supporting children and young people who are refugees. However, we know that many of the children and young people will face challenges as they integrate into their new schools and communities, and it is therefore essential that schools are provided with the appropriate support required to aide this.

“Conference calls on the government to ensure schools, and the relevant partner agencies, are provided with all the necessary funding, support and resources required to ensure that UK schools can be the kickstart to the future that these children need and deserve.”

First published 29 April 2022