Social inequalities in education highlighted at Prom

Social inequalities in education settings can be cruelly visible indicators of differences between children and young people – differences relating to external factors, and not the differences that are active choices by young people exploring and refining their own identities at this key developmental stage.

Prom can bring social and economic inequalities to the fore

In the face of rising costs, Ysgol Brynrefail in Llanrug, Gwynedd, has taken an inspiring initiative to ensure that all students can participate in their end-of-year prom.

This effort highlights not only the economic challenges facing families but also the critical role that community and leadership play in addressing social inequalities.

By seeking prom attire donations from the local community, the school demonstrates a proactive approach to fostering inclusivity and support.

Financial Barriers to Participation

The rising cost of living has placed significant strain on many families, making it difficult for some students to afford the expenses associated with prom.

Jennifer Hughes, head of years 10 and 11 at Ysgol Brynrefail and organiser of the prom, shared her concerns:

“A couple of students have come to us and said they simply can’t afford to come because of the costs. It’s terribly sad knowing that’s the reason.”

Prom has become a significant cultural event, especially as it marks the end of important educational milestones like GCSEs and A Levels. Kieran, a year 11 pupil, emphasized the importance of the event:

“This prom is really important to a lot of people. Everyone has been here with each other for at least five years, and some even longer than that. It’s important for us to come together and celebrate with each other.”

Community Leadership and Decision-Making

To mitigate the financial burden, the school has taken several steps. They have kept costs low by hosting the event locally and subsidising tickets for students on free school meals. Yet, the pressure to look good remains a significant concern for many students. As Kieran pointed out,

“There’s a lot of pressure to impress – and a suit costs at least £150.”

Recognising this, Ms Hughes and her team reached out to parents and the local community for donations of prom suits and dresses. This leadership decision not only addresses the immediate financial barriers but also fosters a culture of support and inclusivity.

“The last thing we want is to put pressure on anyone or make them worry about how they look, or how they’re going to pay to go,” Ms Hughes added.

Behavioural Science Approaches

Incorporating behavioural science into this initiative can further improve outcomes. For example, the principle of reciprocity suggests that people are more likely to give when they feel they are contributing to a meaningful cause. By highlighting personal stories and the positive impact of donations, the school can encourage more community members to participate.

Moreover, reducing the stigma associated with needing financial assistance is crucial. According to a study by Thaler and Sunstein (2008), framing decisions in a positive light can significantly influence behaviour (DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.462740).

By promoting the donation drive as a community effort to ensure everyone enjoys the prom, Ysgol Brynrefail can create an environment where students feel supported rather than singled out.

The Role of Government and Policy

The Welsh government has emphasised the importance of considering the financial implications of school activities. Government statistics reveal that 22% of children in Wales live in poverty, highlighting the need for schools to provide support for financially disadvantaged students.

The government’s stance reinforces the responsibility of educational institutions to ensure equitable access to opportunities for all students.

Positive Outcomes and Inspirational Leadership

The school’s initiative has already begun to yield positive results. Students like Erin have highlighted the deeper significance of prom beyond appearances: “It’s important to remember that looking your best isn’t the main reason for going. It’s only one day, and the prom is more about socialising than what you look like.”

By addressing these financial inequalities, Ysgol Brynrefail is setting a powerful example of how schools can lead in fostering inclusivity and support. This approach not only helps individual students but also strengthens the overall community, demonstrating the impact of compassionate leadership and proactive decision-making.

Chipping away at Social inequalities in education

The efforts of Ysgol Brynrefail to ensure all students can attend their prom despite financial barriers exemplify the positive impact that schools can have in addressing social inequalities.

Through community engagement, leadership, and a strong organisational culture, the school is making a significant difference in the lives of its students.

As we continue to explore and address critical issues of health and social inequalities, initiatives like these offer valuable insights and actionable strategies for creating lasting change.

By leveraging behavioural science and fostering supportive communities, we can ensure that all individuals have the opportunity to participate fully in meaningful life events.