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Should the sector do more to highlight cost of living impact on learners

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Poverty and hunger are adversely affecting students’ academic performance.

This is the argument put forward by Darren Hankey, Principal at Hartlepool College of Further Education, as he explains how disadvantaged learners are being impacted by the cost of living crisis.

In an article for Think Further, a recently launched thought leadership initiative from the Association of Colleges and educational charity NCFE, Mr Hankey asks if colleges and the further education sector should be doing more to highlight the impact of poverty on learners.

He said: “Colleges receive £2.41-a-day to help feed the most disadvantaged 16, 17 and 18 year old students. I don’t think it takes an economist or a restauranteur to work out that this is a measly amount to help feed the nation’s most disadvantaged teenagers.

“I know many colleges top-up this amount – we do at Hartlepool College of FE – but arguably this is still insufficient and why should we? We do it because that’s what we do as a sector. Regardless of policy-maker diktat, we roll our sleeves up and crack on.

“But by remaining quiet are we not normalising the fact thousands of young people turn up to colleges up and down the country every day hungry and not in a position to sustain themselves.”

Mr Hankey highlights the important work of figures like Marcus Rashford on free school meals who challenged and succeeded in changing government policy. He also explains that with rising energy, fuel and food costs, more and more working households are being forced into poverty.

He adds: “Some would say that once a young person reaches college-age, they can go and get a part-time job to bring in extra money and that is a reason why child poverty among our students doesn’t gain much traction. On the face of it, this seems like a rational suggestion until we scratch further and realise a couple of salient points.

“Firstly, most young people in poverty live in working households – with regret and despite what policy-makers state, work is not always a route out of poverty. Secondly, opportunities for young people to gain part-time employment have dwindled over the last couple of decades or so and are not evenly spread across the country.

“So, the burden falls on colleges to pick up the pieces and is this right?”

The aim of Think Further is to provide deep insight and informed thought leadership on a range of topics, bringing together research-led think pieces and blogs steeped in the experience and expertise of the further education and skills sector.

To read the full article by Darren Hankey – Should colleges be lobbying on poverty – visit https://www.aoc.co.uk/news-campaigns-parliament/news-views/aoc-blogs/should-colleges-be-lobbying-on-poverty-darren-hankey

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