Growing up in Scotland: early experiences of primary school
This research report highlights the key findings from the Growing up in Scotland early experiences study.
CHAPTER 9 PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENTS
For most families, having a child start school requires the consideration of a series of practical and logistical arrangements - getting the child to and from school, ensuring they have lunch, and making provision for before and after school care if necessary. In this next section, we consider some of the data collected on GUS on each of these aspects of the child's early experience at school. This data is drawn exclusively from sweep 4 of the child cohort and as such refers to the school years of 2008-09 and 2009-10 during which around two-thirds of the cohort were in Primary 1 and the remainder were in Primary 2.
9.2 Key findings
- Most children (53%) in Primary 1 and 2 take a packed lunch to school with slightly fewer (43%) choosing a school meal.
- Children from more disadvantaged circumstances were more likely to have school meals and less likely to have packed lunches than those in more advantaged circumstances.
- Around half of all children walk to and from school, 38% make the journey to school by car and around one-third (33%) return home by car.
- Amongst those families who own cars, children living in the least deprived areas are just as likely to be taken to school by car as those living in the most deprived areas.
- Children in remote rural areas were less likely to walk and more likely to use a school bus for their journey to school.
- 8% of children attended a breakfast club and 16% attended an after-school club.
- Most children who attended an after-school club (57%) did so on only one or two days each week. In contrast, almost three-quarters (71%) of children who used breakfast clubs attended on three of the five days including 38% who attended every day.
- The most common reason given for use of either club was 'for childcare'.
- Children in lone parent families were more likely than those from couple families to attend breakfast clubs.
- Children in households where parents had higher levels of education and higher incomes were more likely to attend after-school clubs than those in households where parents had lower qualifications or incomes.
9.3 Type of school lunch
What children eat during their school lunch break has been the subject of much research, debate and controversy in recent years, most notably perhaps in celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's high profile campaign to improve the nutritional content of meals provided by schools 17 . Since 2003, the Scottish Government has introduced a range of policy and legislation, such as The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007 and the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008 aimed at improving the nutritional standard of food provided by schools in Scotland. Local authorities have also introduced programmes with similar aims. For example, Glasgow City Council have recently piloted the Big Eat In initiative, a programme designed to encourage predominantly secondary school pupils to stay within the school grounds at lunchtime, eat a healthy lunch and participate in a lunchtime activity (Scottish Centre for Social Research, 2011).
School-provided meals are not the only focus of this debate however. On average, around half of school pupils in the UK take a packed lunch to school (Gregory et al, 2000). Recent research with 8 to 9-year-old children attending primary schools across the UK (Evans et al, 2010) found that only 1% of packed lunches met the nutritional standards set for school meals.
The interest in what children eat is school is not without purpose. Data from GUS suggest that at age 6, not long after they have started school, 22% of Scottish children are overweight or obese (Parkes et al, 2012). NHS statistics from the National Child Measurement Programme in England suggest that overweight and obesity increases amongst children during their time at primary school (Department of Health, 2011). Data from the 2010-11 school year indicate that 23% of children in reception class (the equivalent of Primary 1) were overweight or obese on entry to primary school rising to 33% of children in the year prior to starting secondary school. In addition, research has suggested that what children eat at lunchtime may also impact on their behaviour and educational outcomes (Golley et al, 2010).
Whilst data from GUS do not allow consideration of the nutritional content of what children eat during school lunch breaks, the questions asked do allow consideration of differences in uptake of school meals versus packed lunches amongst children with different characteristics.
The proportion of children who took different types of school lunch are shown in Figure 9-A. As the graph shows, most children (53%) in Primary 1 and 2 take a packed lunch with slightly fewer (43%) choosing a school meal. Very few children went home for lunch.
Figure 9-A Type of school lunch taken
Bases: weighted = 2186, unweighted = 2188
Family socio-economic and area characteristics were closely associated with type of school lunch. Children from more disadvantaged circumstances were more likely to have school meals and less likely to have packed lunches than those in more advantaged circumstances. For example, as shown in Figure 9-B, 62% of children in the lowest income group took school meals for lunch compared with 44% of children in the highest income group. In contrast, 54% of children in the highest income group took packed lunches compared with 36% of those in the lowest income group.
These differences largely reflect the policy on eligibility for free school lunches. Parents can claim free school lunches for their children if they are receiving certain welfare benefits or tax credits though more recent legislation enabled local authorities to provide free lunches to all P1-P3 pupils from August 2010 18 . Whilst not all children who are eligible for free lunches necessarily take them (Scottish Government, 2009), enough do so to influence the pattern observed.
Figure 9-B Type of school lunch taken by household income and area deprivation
Bases: lowest income quintile - weighted = 500, unweighted = 422; highest income quintile - weighted = 346, unweighted = 396; highest area deprivation - weighted = 484, unweighted = 386; lowest area deprivation - weighted = 444, unweighted = 500
9.4 Travel to school
Scotland has a relatively poor record for health and physical activity, including amongst children and young people. In its Route Map Towards Healthy Weight (Scottish Government, 2010), the Scottish Government identifies an increase in 'active travel' when making local journeys as one of the key pathways through which an increase in physical activity and a decrease in overweight and obesity can be achieved. Indeed, active travel also plays a significant role in the Scottish Government's physical activity strategy (Physical Activity Task Force, 2003).
One journey highlighted as offering potential for change, and which has been the focus of funding and development in recent years, is the journey to school. GUS data permit an exploration of the home-to-school journeys of children in P1 and P2 and how the mode of transport varies according to key family and area characteristics.
The proportion of children using different modes of transport for their journey to and from school is shown in Figure 9-C. Around half of all children walk to and from school. Travel by car is the next most common method with around two-fifths (38%) making the journey to school by car and around one-third (33%) using the car for the journey home.
For some children the method used for both journeys is different, though for most it is the same. Children who travel to school by public transport are most likely to use a different method for the journey home - 15% return home by car and 11% by walking. Eighty-three per cent of children who travel to school by car also return home by car. The remainder largely walk home. Almost all children (95%) who walk to school also walk home.
Figure 9-C Modes of transport used for journey to and from school
Bases: weighted = 2187, unweighted = 2189
Mode of transport used for the journey to school varies according to area characteristics including deprivation and urban-rural classification. Differences by area deprivation quintile are shown in Table 9.1 and those for urban-rural classification in Table 9.2. As the data for all children mask differences in car ownership by area deprivation and urban-rural classification, results have been displayed separately for those families who own a car.
Table 9.1 Modes of transport used for journey to school by area deprivation and car ownership
|All children||Families with access to a car|
|Public transport, such as bus or train||1||1||3||2||3||1||1||3||1||1|
|School or local authority bus, minibus or coach||4||9||10||3||4||4||9||11||3||2|
|Car or other vehicle (including taxi)||40||46||43||36||28||40||48||47||47||43|
|Bicycle - child or someone else cycles||1||1||1||0||1||1||1||1||0||0|
Looking first at the data for all children, making the journey by car is significantly more common amongst children living in an area in the least deprived quintile than it is for children in the most deprived quintile. However, the relationship is not completely linear as those children living in areas in the second and third quintiles are slightly more likely to make the journey by car than are those in the first quintile. The pattern is opposite for walking, with children living in areas in the two most deprived quintiles more likely to walk than children living in areas in the other three quintiles. Children living in areas in the 2nd and 3rd quintiles are least likely to walk.
Turning to the data on modes used amongst only those families with access to a car, it is clear that variations in car ownership by area deprivation are key to influencing school journey decisions 19 . After controlling for car ownership, the variations by area deprivation are considerably less. Indeed, amongst families with access to a car, there is no significant difference in the proportion of children who go to school by car or who walk between those living in the least deprived areas and those in the most deprived areas.
Variations by the urban-rural classification of the area in which the child lives are shown in Table 9.2. Due to small numbers in some of the remote and rural categories the two remote and two accessible categories have been combined.
Table 9.2 Modes of transport used for journey to school by area urban-rural characteristics and car ownership
|All children||Families with access to a car|
|Accessible small town or rural
|Remote small town or rural
|Accessible small town or rural
|Remote small town or rural
|Public transport, such as bus or train||3||2||2||2||1||1||2||3|
|School or local authority bus, minibus or coach||4||5||8||17||4||5||8||18|
|Car or other vehicle (including taxi)||39||39||37||40||47||46||41||43|
|Bicycle - child or someone else cycles||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||1|
As may be expected, key differences in the data are between children who live in remote areas and those who do not. Amongst all children, those who live in remote areas are significantly less likely to walk and significant more likely to use a school bus to make the journey to school than are children living in all other area types. This simply reflects the likely longer distances between children's homes and their schools in these areas. Car use patterns remain broadly similar amongst those families with access to a car with similarly high proportions in this group in remote areas using a school bus as compared with families in other areas. Given that almost all families in remote areas own a car (89%), the similar patterns between the 'all children' and 'car owner' groups are to be expected.
9.5 Breakfast clubs and after-school clubs
Breakfast clubs and after-school clubs fulfil a range of functions for the children who attend them and parents who use them. In relation to the latter, whilst the provision of a free or subsidised breakfast in a school or community-based setting is core to the service, breakfast clubs are also designed to "incorporate a range of additional social, health, education and childcare elements into healthy breakfast provision" (Scottish Community Diet Project, 2004). The provision of breakfast clubs in Scotland grew steadily from the mid-1990s (Cassels and Stewart et al, 2002) and they have featured as key elements in successive policies aimed at improving children's healthy eating habits such as Hungry for Success (Scottish Executive, 2002) and Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008.
After-school clubs are generally geared towards the provision of care for children following the end of the school day until they are able to be collected by parents who may be in employment, education or training. Such services often also provide childcare for school-aged children during school holidays and may be operated by voluntary organisations using parent management or advisory groups, community businesses, local authorities or health authorities. After-school clubs provide children with a range of activities and play equipment often different to, but complementing, the school curriculum as well as the opportunity to socialise and play with other children.
GUS collects information on parents' use of regular childcare for the cohort child and on reaching school age, information is collected on use of breakfast and after-school clubs for this purpose. However, the data considered in this section is drawn from a set of questions specifically about use and awareness of breakfast and after-school clubs asked of parents of children in the child cohort at sweep 4, around the time when the child was aged 6 and in Primary 1 or 2.
The proportion of children who attend breakfast clubs and who attend after-school clubs, as well as the number of days attended, is displayed in Figure 9-D. Children were considerably more likely to attend an after-school club than a breakfast club though most did not attend either. Just 8% attended a breakfast club, 16% attended an after-school club.
Amongst those children who attended an after-school club, most (57%) did so on only one or two days - indeed the most common attendance pattern was on one day only (35%). Children who went to breakfast club tended to do this over multiple days each week. Almost three-quarters (71%) attended on three of the five days including 38% who attended every day.
A little over three-quarters (77%) of breakfast clubs were situated on school premises, considerably more so than after-school clubs where around half (55%) were on school premises. There was some overlap between children who attended either club - for example, one-quarter of children who attended an after-school club also attended a breakfast club.
Figure 9-D Attendance at breakfast and after-school clubs and number of days attended
Bases: Attended - all children, weighted = 2187, unweighted = 2189; Number of days - breakfast club, weighted = 195, unweighted = 186; Number of days - after-school club, weighted = 359, unweighted = 377
Parents who used either club were asked to indicate, from a list provided, their main reasons for doing so (see Table 9.3). Reasons differed slightly between breakfast and after-school clubs.
Table 9.3 Reasons for using breakfast and after-school clubs
|Reason for using breakfast club||Percentage of parents using breakfast club|
|So he/she can socialise with friends||33|
|To have breakfast||22|
|It gives him/her an opportunity for informal learning||3|
|Reason for using after-school club||Percentage of parents using after-school club|
|So he/she can socialise with friends||33|
|It gives him/her an opportunity to get involved in sports/activities||20|
|It gives him/her space to do and support with his/her homework||10|
|It gives him/her an opportunity for additional learning||6|
Note: parents could select multiple responses, summed percentages will not equal 100%.
As shown in Table 9.3, the most common reason given for use of either club was 'for childcare'. This was slightly more common as a reason for using after-school clubs than breakfast clubs. Similar proportions of breakfast club and after-school club users - around a third for each club - cited the opportunity for the child to socialise as a reason. A little over one-fifth (22%) of those using breakfast clubs said they used it for the child to have breakfast. A similar proportion said the chance for the child to participate in sports or activities was a key reason for using an after-school club.
Use of breakfast and after-school clubs varied according to key socio-economic characteristics of the family. The use of breakfast clubs did not differ significantly according to parental education level or household income, but there were some small differences by parental employment and other factors. Children in households where no parent was working were more likely to attend a breakfast club than were children in households where parents were employed (12% compared with 10% in households with a parent in part-time employment and 8% in households where a parent was in full-time employment). Children in lone parent families were more likely than those from couple families to attend breakfast clubs (12% compared with 8%) as were those in large urban areas when compared with children in other urban-rural area types.
Different characteristics were associated with use of after-school clubs and breakfast clubs. Children in households where parents had higher levels of education and higher incomes were more likely to attend after-school clubs than those in household where parents had lower qualifications or incomes. Thirty per cent of children from families in the highest income group attended an after-school club compared with 13% of those from families in the lowest income group. Despite 'childcare' being a more prominent reason for use of after-school clubs, there were no statistically significant variations in use between households where parents were employed full-time and those who were employed part-time or were not working. Differences did exist according to area deprivation with use higher amongst families living in areas with lower deprivation.
The small numbers involved make it difficult to consider differences in reasons given for use of breakfast clubs between parents with different socio-economic characteristics. However, it is possible to give some tentative consideration of this in relation to after-school clubs.
Figure 9-E displays the reasons given for using after-school clubs by level of household income. To increase the base size, responses from the bottom two income groups have been combined.
The graph shows that the dominant reason for using an after-school club given by parents in the highest income group was for childcare - 9 in 10 parents cited this reason. This is considerably higher than the 6 in 10 (59%) parents in the lower income group. Lower income parents were significantly more likely to say they used the after-school club for the child to socialise, experience additional learning opportunities and do homework, and for sports or activities. A similar pattern was evident according to area deprivation with childcare being the dominant reason amongst parents living in less deprived areas.
Figure 9-E Reasons for use of after-school clubs by level of household income
Bases: lowest two income groups - weighted = 109, unweighted = 95; highest income group - weighted = 103, unweighted = 121
Those parents who were not using an after-school club were asked whether they thought there was one available locally that they could use. Combining their responses with those who were actually using an after-school club indicates that three-quarters of parents were either using or knew of an after-school club in their area. Those not using a club (84% of all parents) were also asked why. For the most part, parents said they were simply not interested (88%) although a small proportion (4%) indicated there were no places available at their local club. Amongst parents who were not using an after-school club and were not aware of any such clubs operating locally (22% of all parents), around two-fifths (42%, or 9% of all parents) said that if an after-school club did operate locally they would use it, suggesting a small unmet need for this service.
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