By SallyAnn Kelly

TODAY the Scottish Parliament's Education, Children and Young People Committee will be looking into what progress has been made to reduce the so-called poverty-related attainment gap.

Poverty is the single greatest issue faced by families Aberlour works with.

Children spend only around 15% of their time in school. What most often impacts on a child’s learning is what happens away from school – before and beyond the school gates. We know when children come to school hungry, tired or stressed their ability to learn is significantly diminished.

For children who are struggling with learning, in-school support is important, such as a nurture hubs and learning support bases, as well as compassionate teachers.

It is also vital to understand and respond to what is happening in a child’s life away from school.

Much of the work we do to support children’s learning focuses on family wellbeing, helping families with challenges they face, like family relationship breakdown, struggles with debt, domestic abuse and other adversities.

We respond to stressors families experience and ask them what will best help them and their children. We help children in distress manage and regulate their emotions, which helps them to focus and engage better in school. We develop trusted relationships with families, finding solutions together to help children to be ready to learn.

During lockdown we worked closely with schools to support children’s learning at home, including in our own children’s houses.

Early relationship disruption and trauma can impact on children’s development and learning. And for many of the children who live with us, navigating the educational and social challenges that school presents can often cause huge additional anxiety and stress.

One unforeseen consequence of the pandemic was the unexpectedly positive impact it had on many children who live with us.

The positive effect on children’s learning and wider wellbeing was significant, with many children flourishing. Children reported reduced stress due to not being in a formal school environment. They told us they felt included for the first time because everyone was learning at home – they didn’t feel "different".

During lockdown many enjoyed a relaxed, personalised approach to learning. Children who previously struggled to complete schoolwork started to finish it independently. Children who had needed full-time support before, now managed their workload when they were able to learn at their own pace. Some children completed more work during lockdown than they ever did at school.

This made us reconsider how best we can support the learning of our most vulnerable children. We collaborated with our children to offer a more personalised and individual approach to learning, drawing on children’s strengths, interests and talents.

The pandemic has shown us there are different ways to help distressed and traumatised children to learn.

This should make us all think differently and challenge conventions about how we support children who have experienced early adversity, including children who live at home and those who can’t, both in and away from school. Because if we get it right for them we will get it right for every child.

SallyAnn Kelly is chief executive of children’s charity Aberlour