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Family voices ‘should shape policy' on food, learning and holidays

In a letter published in the Herald newspaper today, our Chief Executive Jackie Brock responded to a call by the Scottish Conservatives that schools should stay open as “community hubs” during the summer holidays, drawing on Children in Scotland’s learning from our Food, Families, Futures partnership project.

This is an edited extract from her letter:

The Scottish Conservatives’ proposal to keep schools open as “community hubs” throughout the summer raises further questions in an already complex policy debate about the best ways of challenging poverty’s impact on education and health.

Children in Scotland’s FFF project was sparked by headteachers telling us about children and parents in their communities potentially going hungry, missing out on meals because they simply couldn't afford food. This was exacerbated in holiday periods when the schools’ free meal provision ended. They were also worried about the children not getting the chance to have a holiday.

Our experience of the project thus far tells us that, when large-scale business (for example, food distribution company Brakes) and small-scale community organisations take action together to fight these problems, it can have a transformational effect. Families have reported to us their enjoyment of learning more about making food, taking part in activities, and simply being together. But this success has been down to a highly localised approach, where families lead the experience, and partner organisations operate from a deep understanding of each community’s differing characteristics and needs.

At the other end of the spectrum are more macro policy solutions. A Westminster Bill being proposed by Frank Field MP would, if enacted, mandate local authorities in England to facilitate delivery of programmes providing free meals and activities for children during school holidays. There may be pressure for equivalent legislation here.

We think a balance should be struck between learning from a bespoke community-level support and a ‘top down’ national approach that, while well-intentioned, might lose sight of important local realities.

For any policy approach to be effective, it must be sensitive to a multitude of issues. We need to respect school staff’s rights to holidays, and the rights of families not to be bound to their local school outside of term time. We should be wary of thinking that suggests keeping schools open through the summer is a catch-all solution to Scotland’s attainment problem. And we need to be mindful of labeling families as ‘poor’ and communities as ‘deprived’ in a way that doesn’t help them and doesn’t reflect the vitality and fun we saw in Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire over the past two months.

FFF is currently being evaluated by academics at Northumbria University who are looking at whether it has contributed to mitigating learning loss. In developing a policy approach that works we need to be drawing on evidence of this kind ‘in the round’, alongside clear-eyed testimony from children and families about what works for them. They deserve our support and their voices need to be heard as we keep this vital issue on the national agenda.

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