Carol Ann Duffy was born to a Roman Catholic family in the Gorbals, a poor part of Glasgow. She was the first child of Frank Duffy, an electrical fitter, and Mary Black. The couple went on to have another four children, all boys. The family moved to Stafford, England, when Duffy was six years old. Her father worked for English Electric. He was a trade unionist, and stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in 1983; he also managed Stafford Rangers football club in his spare time.
Duffy was educated in Stafford at Saint Austin's RC Primary School (1962–1967), St. Joseph's Convent School (1967–1970), and Stafford Girls' High School (1970–1974), her literary talent encouraged by two English teachers, June Scriven at St Joseph's, and Jim Walker at Stafford Girls' High. She was a passionate reader from an early age, and always wanted to be a writer, producing poems from the age of 11. When one of her English teachers died, she wrote:
- You sat on your desk,
- swinging your legs,
- reading a poem by Yeats
- to the bored girls,
- except my heart stumbled and blushed
- as it fell in love with the words and I saw the tree
- in the scratched old desk under my hands,
- heard the bird in the oak outside scribble itself on the air.