A headteacher has banned fancy pencil cases after her school was “poverty-proofed” by experts.
It was one of the measures taken at St Wilfrid’s Primary School in Blyth, Northumberland, aimed at minimising the stigma poorer pupils endure.
Head Pauline Johnstone has also introduced a standard backpack for pupils, and reduced the financial demands put on parents in a bid to make school life easier for disadvantaged children.
The changes came about after the charity Children North East carried out a poverty-proofing audit of the school, which involved pupils of all ages giving feedback about their experiences.
Mrs Johnstone said: “As a school we had thought we did OK, it was all very equal and children didn’t feel disadvantaged.
“It was quite difficult to listen to some of the feedback.”
Children reported it was “very obvious” that some of them did not have the same things everyone else had, she said.
The school took the decision to ban designer pencil cases - some of which can cost well over £10 - as well as no longer demanding parents make donations for pupils’ dress down days and introducing a standard backpack.
While children who receive free school meals usually went unnoticed, they were identifiable to others on trips out as their packed lunches came in a brown paper bag, the head said.
Mrs Johnstone said there was initial anxiety from parents about the pencil case ban, “but the majority could see why we were doing it”.
The school calculated it could cost parents up to £581 per child per year - including uniform, meals, trips and if children attended every optional after school event.
That made the school, whose pupils come from a wide-range of socio-economic backgrounds, reconsider what it does.
The head said: “We don’t lose out on the lovely things we do, we make sure they are much more cost effective.”
Children North East said poverty affects nearly one in three children in the UK.
Its audits were not a test for schools to pass, but a way of introducing ideas to help pupils from poorer backgrounds.
Experts from Newcastle University found that the project improves attendance, attainment and uptake of free school meals, trips and music tuition.