Please Mind the Education Gap

This blog post is part of a summer series highlighting local and international organisations that we support at Foundation Church Belfast. Post by Rachel Robinson.

As a Manchester United supporter, our players have not had much to boast about in recent seasons. Finally, in June this year, Marcus Rashford has given us hope that the United platform still has some clout!

What an example our number 10’s Free School Meals campaign is of how to make a difference for those who aren’t privileged enough to have a voice that’s heard. It did make me realise my ignorance; all these years as a teacher, dishing out free school meal tickets and I’ve never truly thought about the value of the scheme. It never before occurred to me that not having a decent feed actually prevents students from learning. Hunger distracts from studies and poor nutrition deprives them of the brain food they need to concentrate, memorise and power up their thinking.

Extent of the Need in Northern Ireland

What else are our young people missing out on with education, because of their underprivileged circumstances?

Doctors, teachers, vets…at the age of five years old, all children dream at the same level for their future.

By eleven years old, children from low income families have become all too aware of how their circumstances may not allow them to reach these dreams. Their circumstances won’t afford them extra money for private tuition, and their family’s circumstances doesn’t allow them the time or experience to support and advise educationally.

At eleven years old, children surveyed from low income families show they have significantly lowered their personal expectations, in contrast to their more well-off peers.

By the age of sixteen, disadvantaged young people are one and a half years behind their peers in school. Only 33.5% of young people who qualify for free school meals achieve at least 5 pass grades at GCSE.

The Power of Partnership

When I think less of meal tickets handed out and more of individuals, with dreams crushed and aspiration evaporating, it breaks my heart. How can we build these students up and make sure they fulfil the potential God sees in them?

‘Through love, serve one another.’

Galatians 5:13

If we have money we can afford to donate, time we can afford to give and encouragement we can afford to speak in love, then our opportunity to serve the most needy in our Northern Ireland schools exists. My recent introduction to the team behind NI charity Aspire showed me how; their passion to achieve educational equality in Northern Ireland is infectious.

Aspire partner with local churches and organisations to show us that the answer to offering our young people educational equality is already in their local community. Individuals can volunteer with Aspire to get alongside students in their school regularly at the end of their day.

Instead of going home to an empty house, young people can complete homework on laptops they might not otherwise have access to, with a side of encouragement and advice that they may never otherwise receive.

Mentoring and Recreation

One to one exam tuition can cost up to £60 an hour! Yet one of the current top ‘parent guilts’ is not having a tutor work with your child to boost their school learning. This is a luxury leg up that lower income families just could never dream to afford. Through Aspire Tuition, less financially privileged students can receive complimentary, specialist subject tuition from Aspire’s volunteers.

33% of lower income families take less than the average for leisure breaks in their spare time. Yet, balancing learning and study with down-time is essential for a young person to get the most out of what they are learning, and to maintain good mental health.

Aspire Activities runs in local church locations, to provide Aspire students with opportunities to fill their free time with active fun, in a positive environment, surrounded with life-affirming support.

It is inspiring to see Aspire facilitating local communities to fill in the educational gaps. These financial disadvantages are beyond any child’s control, but if we can spare the time to speak God’s truth into young people’s lives, their self-worth can be restored, their dreams can be reignited and the educational gap can be closed.

For more information visit Aspire NI website here.