A recent survey of more than 8,000 school leaders showed that teachers are seeing more children arriving at school tired, hungry, and angry than ever before. With living standards stagnating across the country, and one in three children living in relative poverty, it is no wonder that teachers often say that they spend much of their time providing breakfast, clothes, heating and even counselling services to children in our schools every day.
The impact of this on a child’s learning is huge. How can a child be expected to take in and retain complex information when they are hungry, ashamed of their tatty clothes, and worrying about what is happening in their life outside of school?
It’s a subject brilliantly explored in the recent book Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by author and former schoolteacher Kate Clanchy, a poignant first-hand account of the devastating effects of poverty and deprivation on children’s behaviour and their ability to learn. And it’s the theme we explore in episode three of our podcast, How Do You Solve A Problem Like... which looks at unhealthy kids, and features interviews with two social entrepreneurs making a big impact on the lives of children.
Firstly, we speak to John Bishop, co-founder of Evolve. They provide mentoring, emotional wellbeing and resilience workshops, and after-school clubs in schools across the West Midlands and in London. One of the schools working with Evolve is Seven Sisters primary school in North London.
In the podcast, Tara Welsh, assistant head at Seven Sisters school says: “We had a high number of exclusions which is why we got involved with Evolve. The impact of that has allowed us to implement different provisions for children and ensure they remain in school and build their resilience – this is key.
Tara explains that she is seeing more and more children with complex mental health needs, communication issues and attachment disorders. She says: “Working with Evolve allows us to focus on treating underlying causes of behaviour, rather than acting on behaviour.”
As well as working in schools, Evolve are now trying to create real systems change, by using the evidence they have of the impact of their work at a policy level.
One of the other issues we explore in the podcast is the link between poverty and obesity. Nathan Atkinson is a former headteacher who now runs ReThinkFood, a social enterprise that uses surplus supermarket food to feed children, who also learn about the environmental impact of reducing waste and its positive impact on the environment.
As a headteacher, Nathan saw the impact of poor diet on learning ability for himself, when one day he and his team had to give pupils sandwiches and jelly and ice-cream for lunch due to a gas failure in the kitchen at his school. The teachers saw a spike in poor behaviour that afternoon, and realised how hunger was hurting their pupils. He then started exploring the link by talking to children about hunger, food insecurity, and the impact they can have on learning in the classroom.
He started a project in his school proving meals using surplus food from supermarkets, before turning this into a breakfast club scheme that ran across Leeds which fed 10,000 children. Now, ReThinkFood has expanded and helps pupils learn about the environment and the UN’s sustainable development goals, with the added impact of them and their families making healthier choices.
Evolve and ReThinkFood are doing great work to tackle real challenges being faced by children in communities across the country. How Do You Solve A Problem Like... brings you powerful stories from amazing social entrepreneurs like John and Nathan, both of whom are doing work that is having a positive impact in extremely challenging circumstances.
You can stream How Do You Solve A Problem Like...directly in your browser on our website, or if you use a podcast app then you can find it there and subscribe. It’s available on iTunes, Spotify, Acast, Podbean, Pocketcasts and more. You can also follow the podcast on Twitter at @aproblemlike. We’ll be back with episode four at the end of May.
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