The term material deprivation refers to poverty and a lack of material necessitiessuch as adequate housing and income.
Poverty is closely linked to educational under-achievement.
- In 2006 only 33% of children receiving free school means (a widely used measure of child poverty) gained five more GCSEs at A8-C, as against 61% of pupils not receiving free school meals.
- According to Jan Flaherty (2004), money problems in the family were a significant factor in younger children’s non-attendance in school.
- Exclusion and truancy are more likely for children from poorer families. Children excluded from school are unlikely to return to mainstream education, while a third of persistent truants leave school with no qualifications.
- Nearly 90% of ‘failing’ schools are located in deprived areas.
There is a close link between poverty and social class. Working class families are much more likely to have low incomes or inadequate housing. Factors such as these can affect their children’s education in several ways.
Poor housing can affect pupil’s achievement both directly and indirectly.
For example, overcrowding can have a direct effect by making it harder for the child to study. It means less room for educational activities, nowhere to do homework, disturbed sleep from sharing beds or bedrooms etc.
For young children especially, development can be impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. Families living in temporary accommodation may find themselves having to move frequently, resulting in constant changes of school and disrupted education.
Poor housing can also have indirect effects, notably on the child’s health and welfare.
For example, children in crowded homes run a greater risk of accidents.
Cold or damp housing can also cause ill health, especially respiratory illnesses.
Families in temporary accommodation suffer more psychological distress, infections and accidents. Such health problems mean more absences from school.
Diet and health
Howard (2001) notes that young people from poorer homes have lower intakes of energy, vitamins and minerals.
Poor nutrition affects health, for example by weakening the immune system and lowering children’s energy levels.
This may result in more absences from school due to illness and difficulties concentrating in class.
Children from poorer homes are also more likely to have emotional or behavioural problems.
According to Wilkinson (1996) among ten year olds, the lower the social class, the higher the rate of hyperactivity, anxiety and conduct disorders, all of which are likely to have a negative effect on the child’s education.
Financial support and the costs of education
Lack of financial support means that children from poor families have to do without equipment and miss out on experiences that would enhance their educational achievement.
Bull (1980) refers to this as the ‘costs of free schooling.
A study in the Oxford area by Tanner et al (2003) found that the cost of items such as transport, uniforms, books, computers, calculators, and sports music and art equipment, places a heavy burden on poor families.
As a result, poor children may have to make do with hand-me-downs and cheaper but unfashionable equipment and this may result in being stigmatised or bullied by peers.
Yet for many children suitable clothes are essential for self-esteem and fitting in.
According to Flaherty, fear of stigmatisation may also help to explain why 20% of those eligible for free school meals do not take up their entitlement.
Lack of funds also means that children from low-income families often need to work. Ridge (2002) found that children in poverty take on jobs such as baby sitting, cleaning and paper rounds and that this often had a negative impact on their school work.
These financial restrictions help to explain why many working-class pupils leave school at 16 and why relatively few go on to university.
There is evidence that a fear of debt deters poor students from applying.
Students from poorer families starting university can expect to leave with substantial debts as a result of the introduction of fees for higher education.
Dropout rates are also higher for universities with a large proportion of poor student: for example 13% at Sunderland, a university with a large working-class intake but only 1.4% at Oxford, where over four out of ten students come from private schools.
The National Audit Office (2002) found that working-class students spent twice as much time in paid work to reduce their debts as middle class students.
Cultural or Material Factors?
While material factors clearly pay a part in achievement, the fact that some children from poor families do succeed suggests that material deprivation is only part of the explanation.
For example, the cultural, religious or political values of the family may play a part in creating and sustaining the child’s motivation, even despite poverty. Similarly, the quality of the school may play an important part in enabling the some poor children to achieve.
Nevertheless, Moritmore and Whitty (1997) argue that material inequalities have a greater effect on achievement than school factors. For this reason, Robinson (1997) argues that tacking child poverty would be the most effective way to boost achievement.