How teachers go above and beyond to keep children learning

Daisy Elliott - Senior Policy Advisor
Thursday 25 April 2024

Our latest research shows that teachers are stepping in where other services for children are overburdened. We're sharing the week in the life of a teacher to show how they keep children learning and what we think needs to change.

Aisha* is a primary school teacher of a reception class. As part of our latest research, we asked her to keep a diary highlighting the parts of her week that involved supporting children facing barriers to their education because of issues outside school.

Some detail and further examples have been added from her interview.

I sometimes feel like I spend more time filling that gap of needing contact and comfort than actually teaching.

Aisha's* week as a schoolteacher:

Two children in my class, Sofi* and Anna*, are from families who speak English as an additional language. The language barrier makes it a challenge for their parents to support them with their work at home. They also come from different schooling systems so they’re less familiar with our teaching styles. When we speak to their parents, we tend to rely on Google Translate. Even with the help of Google, it can be tough to communicate everything.

Today we were joined by Sofi’s parents and Anna’s mum for a maths session. We’ve been running these sessions to help their parents have a better idea of what we’re teaching, so they can support their child at home.

So far, these sessions seem to be helping. I can see the girls are both becoming more confident in class, and they seem happier to be in school.

It was great to have Sofi and Anna’s parents in today – but it was tricky inviting extra guests into the classroom as it was already a busy day. 

A couple of other children really needed my attention. Both Emily* and Jeremiah* – who are often very anxious and unsettled – wanted to hold my hand and be close to me during the lesson.

We got off to an uncertain start today as several children arrived late, missing the usual morning routine and introduction to the day.

This means they end up a bit unsettled as they arrive in the middle of things, not knowing what’s going on and where we are in the timetable. It’s also tricky to get them up to speed while trying to teach the rest of the class at the same time.

It worries me as some of the children miss the start of the day regularly, or even most days.

The time they miss, and confusion of joining the day later, means there's a real knock-on effect on their learning. I don’t want to see them falling behind.

I wish I had a better idea of what’s causing them to be late. So far, we’ve written to parents to remind them of why it’s important for their child to be at school for the start of the day, but we haven’t seen much of an impact. I’m going to speak to the other teachers about what we could try next.

Today was really tough – I came home exhausted.

A student, Josh*, was very distressed, so I needed to spend a lot of the day supporting him. I’m not sure of the full picture at home, but I know that Josh’s family are facing quite a few difficulties. I think that social services are involved to some degree – but I don’t know what support they’re getting.

My plan for the day was teaching phonics, but I stopped several times to look after Josh. I just couldn’t leave him, as upset as he was.

In the end, I found another member of staff to take over my teaching so I could focus on comforting him and getting to the bottom of what’s troubling him.

We weren’t in the classroom today – we went on a school trip to a local railway museum to learn how trains work. Trips are always full on, but the day went as smoothly as we could have hoped.

The galleries were full of exhibits for the children to play on and I think they really enjoyed it.

One of our students, Tomas*, often misses school, but his dad joined us today as a chaperone. I haven’t spent much time with him before, so it was good to get the chance to chat to him and build a relationship. I’m hoping that strengthening his trust and understanding will have a positive effect on his son as well. It would be good to see Tomas coming into school more regularly.

We finished off the week with a Family Friday session after school. This offers a chance for parents to come in and take part in a relaxed lesson with their children. Today we played shopkeepers.

I think the parents and carers appreciated learning a new, fun way to practice maths at home, and the children loved showing off their counting and numeracy skills.

I hope these sessions help in boosting parents’ confidence when supporting their children to learn at home. Some parents are much more confident than others, and you can see that pass onto their children as well.

I’m glad that the session went down so well, though it means an extra couple of hours at school at the end of a long week.

Next week is the last week before the holidays, which is always a busy one!

It’s also the last week of March. I can see the pressure this puts on parents as they’re getting closer to payday at the end of the month. With costs rising and budgets so tight, I see families running out of money, and running out of food.

Parents can come to me if they need access to the school’s food bank. There they can get enough food – mostly tins and dried foods – to see their family through for a few days. We can also provide vouchers for utilities, and clothes. All infant pupils get free school meals, but they won’t get this over the half term, so it’s important that families get what they need.

I’m glad we’re able to offer them something but it’s upsetting that so many families need it. Several have come in this week already. I know that financial stress and pressure adds to the other issues that families face too.

I hope we manage to get some Easter eggs donated.

No child should miss out because they can't get support

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Poverty across the UK:

  • One in five households with children – an estimated 1.5 million – are in serious financial difficulties. [1]
  • Families with very young children are more likely to be in poverty: more than one in three children in families with a 0–4-year-old are in poverty (36%), compared to one in four children in families with a child aged 11 to 15 (25%). [2]
We must act now

Explore the impact of child poverty in your area, and send this to your MP

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About the research

Our latest research shows, that according to teachers, there could be over 3.3 million children experiencing barriers to their education because of issues outside school. That’s nine pupils in an average class of 25.

We carried out a nationally representative survey of over 7,000 teachers and conducted eight supplementary interviews to gather in-depth experiences.

The research shows that overall, support for children is limited.

A lack of early help services for children and families means that teachers often go above and beyond to fill gaps in support and keep children learning.

This puts pressure on teachers, as they don’t have the time or the right skillset to provide the support families need. They're also already struggling with high workloads which is causing more and more teachers to leave the profession.

Read more about latest policy report

Our report presents teachers’ experiences of supporting these children.

Learn more
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Our recommendations for the government:

In this general election year, it’s vital that all political parties focus on children. This should include a focus on building a well-functioning early help system that can support more children and families to thrive.

  1. Introduce a legal duty on local authorities to provide early help backed by significant funding.
  2. That duty should include the provision of multi-disciplinary family help teams.
  3. Promote the use of family liaison officers in schools by creating best practice guidance for the role.
  4. Commit to a timetable for making education a fourth statutory safeguarding partner in England.
  5. Support all local authorities to integrate their early help, early intervention, and family services so there’s ‘one front door’, building on the Family Hub model. This should include sufficient funding, a long-term vision and the sharing of best practice and learning.

*All names and some details have been changed to protect anonymity.

[1] Action for Children 2023 A cost of children crisis?

[2] HM Government 2024 Family Resources Survey: financial year 2022 to 2023 Department for Work and Pensions