Sioned Williams MS writes about the unhappy relationship that underpins Wales’ school performance.
This article was published in the Glamorgan Gazette on Thursday 11 January 2024.
One in three children in Wales are living in poverty – this is a shocking statistic that has remained stubbornly high.
It cropped up again recently with the publication of the latest PISA results – these are the world-wide set of results that look at performance in maths, reading and science, and examines different factors which can affect that performance – like well-being and poverty. The survey found that one in ten students in the UK have had to miss a meal at least once a week because of poverty. Given Wales has a greater proportion of its children in poverty than other UK nations, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that this impacts children in Wales more.
The negative impact of hunger on learning is easy to understand – put simply, hungry children can’t learn.
Lack of funds also limits choice: even when families can afford to put food on the table, they can’t always afford the healthiest options.
That’s why I’ve fought for free school meals, and was so proud that through the Co-operation Agreement between my party Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government, these are being rolled out to all primary school children. Free school meals directly address child hunger and ensure that every child benefits from a nutritious meal, levelling the playing field and giving them the best possible chance to learn.
But poverty and hunger doesn’t stop in primary school. In secondary schools, there’s a cap on earnings that’s so strict that even some families on Universal Credit don’t qualify for free school meals. I think that cap should be lifted immediately – if you qualify for Universal Credit, you should qualify for a free meal in school.
In the meantime, Welsh Government must tackle the root cause of school hunger: namely child poverty. Here in Wales there haven’t been targets in place to tackle child poverty since 2016, so Welsh Government must immediately reinstate these. Until we combat the ongoing crisis of child poverty in Wales then it will continue to impact our children’s ability to learn, and ultimately, our future as a nation.