Cllr Cowan with the particaptory budgeting team, HT David Rose, DHT Hayley Fitzpatrick, Callum Fitzpatrick and Debbie Nicoll

Financial Inclusion team challenges poverty within our schools

During Challenge Poverty Week, Councillor Elaine Cowan, Council Spokesperson for Education, and Children and Young People visited the William McIlvanney Campus in Kilmarnock to meet with the Financial Inclusion Team based within the school.

A decision was taken by Cabinet in 2022 to allocate additional funding to the Financial Inclusion Team to allow the expansion of a project that was piloted at Loudoun Academy. This very successful pilot saw a Financial Inclusion Officer based within the school providing support and guidance to children and young people, their families and to the local cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres.

Eight Financial Inclusion Team members have been recruited and are based within every secondary school in East Ayrshire. They are working to ensure that families can access all the benefits and grants they are entitled to, maximising the family income. They also help to manage emergency situations as they arise and have access to a £50,000 Cost of Living fund that allows them to provide discretionary free school meals to children and young people for up to eight weeks.

Councillor Elaine Cowan, Spokesperson for Education, and Children and Young People said: “The expansion of the Financial Inclusion team was an important part of our strategy to tackle the Cost of Living crisis in East Ayrshire. The pilot at Loudoun Academy clearly demonstrated that having a member of the Financial Inclusion Team embedded within the school was the right approach, that families were benefitting financially but it was also helping their overall wellbeing by removing the stress and worry of applying for grants and benefits on their own. It therefore made perfect sense that this was rolled out to every secondary school.”

Councillor Cowan met with Kilmarnock Academy Head Teacher David Rose, Depute Head Teacher Hayley Fitzpatrick, Debbie Nicoll, Financial Inclusion Co-ordinator and Callum McMichael, the Financial Inclusion officer based with the school. She also met with young people who attended Cost of the School Day workshops, led by the Child Poverty Action Group, and representatives of the Pupil Participatory Budgeting group from each school house and year group.

Lauren, Nana and Rhianna, from S6, who attended the Cost of the School Day workshop, spoke passionately about the importance of tackling poverty in their school community and their plans to help those around them by working with their teachers and the Financial Inclusion team. Lauren spoke about the support that is available to local families through the school, including access to school bags and provisions for new S1’s, warm winter clothes and even food that can be taken home at the end of the school day. She said: “It is so important that families know where to turn for help and it is better that everyone knows what’s available, rather than targeting certain groups. The more you know, the better it is for everyone.”

The Participatory Budgeting group, which including 40 young people in total, have been given £5,000 by their Head Teacher to improve wellbeing and equity within the school. Each house had a team that put forward an idea or concept to improve the school community and those ideas have been shared with the whole school. Their peers have until Friday this week to vote for their favourite project, which includes yoga classes, improving the school garden and introducing wellbeing boxes in every class.

Councillor Cowan said: “It was incredible to hear from the young people how close the partnership is between the school and the Financial Inclusion team. 45% of young people attending Kilmarnock Academy come from SIMD 1 and 2 areas, as David Rose says this means that challenging poverty isn’t just for one week of the year it is part of what the school does day in day out.

“The role of the Financial Inclusion team is to support this work and speak directly to local families, this can be in school or the team can meet our families at their home or in a neutral meeting space, for example they could meet somewhere for a coffee to just have a chat. Since May, Callum has realised benefits/ savings of £28,684.80 for local families and that is just one school – this is being replicated across East Ayrshire and it is just the beginning. Benefits and the application process tend to change regularly. Our Financial Inclusion team have the knowledge and the experience to navigate this tricky process. It is definitely worth getting in touch with them to ensure that your family is receiving all the support that they are due.”

Councillor Cowan concluded: “COSLA and the Improvement Service are speaking directly to our teams to find out more about our approach to tackling poverty. East Ayrshire’s Financial Inclusion team is part of our school community this means that they are engaging with families from Early Years right through to when our young people leave school. I am really proud of this work and hope that we can share best practice with neighbouring authorities.”

Notes to editors

Contact your Financial Inclusion Officer:

Barony Campus, local cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres

Laura Greer

07407 116031

John Scally

07501 382284           

Doon Academy, local cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres

Kirsty McMonagle

07407 116045

Grange Academy, local cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres

Julie McCall

07584 490511

Loudoun Academy, local cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres

Maureen Carmichael

07834 211609

Stewarton Academy, local cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres

Scott Finnie

07407 115841

St Joseph's Academy, cluster primary schools and St Andrew's Early Childhood Centre

Kimberley Cameron

07407 112089

William McIlvanney Campus, cluster primary schools and Early Childhood Centres

Callum McMichael

07823 536404