With so many Fife families struggling to make ends meet and people literally having to make what is – in a civilised society like ours – a ridiculous choice between heating and eating, I thought it was amazing this week to see the work being done in Fife to bring down the cost of the school day.
It’s been a huge problem for generations but I think it’s fair to say it’s not something that has focused minds to a great extent until more recently.
Maybe that’s because of austerity, benefit changes or a more general awareness of people actually being in poverty, but it’s great to see local authorities putting fairness in schools to the fore.
Education has been underpinned by the Getting It Right For Every Child philosophy, so crucial to that is the need to break down the financial barriers that can so often affect a youngster’s experience at school.
A lot of the talk around this subject has fixated on uniform, and the fact the school clothing grant in Fife was raised to £100 will invariably have helped – as has the rise of uniform swap shops and clothing banks.
But as times have changed so have the goalposts, so broadening the scope of work to reduce costs has been essential.
It struck me the other day when my daughter came home with a homework assignment to be completed online. Not everyone is going to be able to afford a computer, let alone WiFi, so it’s clear that’s one area which needs to be looked at.
And while many pupils come home excited about an impending non-uniform day or dressing up for World Book Day, for example, or even a school trip, how many parents and carers instantly feel dread rather than being able to share in their kid’s joy?
For cash-strapped parents, these things are far from insignificant, and many either make sacrifices elsewhere to ensure their kids can join in or are made to feel terrible by refusing to relent.
And then you’ve got the children themselves who can feel real stigma, simply because they don’t have brand names on their clothing or because they eat the cheaper equivalent of their favourite crisps at lunchtime.
The bottom line is that there needs to be a level playing field so all of our kids get the most out of their school days, irrespective of how much money their mums and dads have or don’t have.