Delegates backed a call on the Scottish Government to use its Education Reform programme to facilitate improved outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and to honour its commitment to roll out free school meals for all primary pupils and to make urgent provision for secondary school pupils.
Most of the contributions to the debate on motion 27 – Poverty and Education were about the terrible effect of poverty on children’s ability to learn and the disproportionate impact of poverty on children and households with protected characteristics.
Supporting the EIS motion Lorraine Thomson said that in Scotland we are seeing rising levels of destitution.
“Across the UK the numbers have been increasing by the million year on year. And with destitution comes the impact on mental health and on family relationships, causing isolation, and exclusion.”
“In our most deprived areas we are seeing this first hand in our schools.
“Pupils absent because their families don’t have a washing machine to keep school uniforms clean or can’t afford the electricity. Children with scabies or headlice because bedding can’t be washed regularly.
“More and more families relying on food banks regularly. Hungry children, living in cold houses, can’t make the most of learning.”
She spoke of the Cost of the School Day initiatives and the fantastic work to make sure that children get what they need, in a non-stigmatising way.
However, Lorraine called for a strategy that doesn’t just treat the symptoms, but which tackles the root causes of poverty and inequality.
“Two thirds of children living in poverty have a parent in work. So we need to change the economy and change the labour market so that it works for everyone. And a welfare system that goes back to providing social security rather than punishment and humiliation.
“Public services are a proven method of redistribution. We need to restore and expand our children’s services and the support we give to families and undo the damage austerity has done to children’s education and their chances in life.”