Homeless at school: 56% of teachers have worked with homeless children

By agency reporter
November 20, 2020

In the last three years, over half of state school teachers in Britain (56 per cent) have worked at a school with children who were homeless or became homeless, a major study by Shelter and YouGov reveals.

The charity’s findings show most teachers have first-hand knowledge of the damage done by the housing emergency to education, with it now being commonplace to see children grappling with homelessness at school. With the impact of the pandemic making housing inequalities worse, housing charity Shelter warns that this situation could worsen for the 136,000 homeless children living in Britain.

In the last three years, some of the most devastating effects seen by teachers with experience of working with homeless children or those living in bad housing include hunger, tiredness, absenteeism, and poor hygiene:

  • 88 per cent of these teachers reported children missing school as a key issue. This is often because children can face significant difficulties with their journey to school if they become homeless and are accommodated a long way from their former home.
  • 87 per cent reported children coming to school hungry. Temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels are often not equipped with suitable or any cooking facilities.
  • 94 per cent reported tiredness as an issue for homeless children and those living in bad housing. In overcrowded accommodation children may struggle to sleep.
  • 89 per cent reported children arriving at school in unwashed or dirty clothing. This can be caused by a lack of proper or affordable washing facilities in temporary accommodation, as well as issues such as mould and damp in poor-quality housing.

In order to explore the themes raised by its polling in more detail, Shelter also carried out anonymous interviews with eight teachers working in primary and secondary schools.

One of the teachers reflected on how exhausted a young pupil became because she was moved to emergency homeless accommodation in a different area: “She leaves home at 6am every morning to get to school because the local authority have no homes so she has been temporarily rehoused [out of area] ... the family of four are living in one room at a B&B. Her attendance has dropped severely, she has become ill and she is always tired.”

Dani Worthington, a headteacher in Batley, West Yorkshire, said: “Homeless children are at a disadvantage before the school day has even started. In my 15 years of teaching, I have seen the devastating knock-on effect of homelessness on education many times. Children who did well when they lived in a stable home became withdrawn and unable to follow their lessons. When families don’t have access to the basics like a washing machine, we end up washing their uniforms at school. We had one family where all the kids had to share a bed, they were shattered. It’s not right.”

To understand the impact of the pandemic on the education of homeless children and those trapped in bad housing, Shelter carried out a follow-up survey with teachers in October as schools re-opened their doors. The results painted a worrying picture, with pandemic disruptions appearing to have set children without a suitable home even further back. Almost three-quarters of teachers (73 per cent) say that homeless children or children living in bad housing have had their education more negatively affected than children in suitable housing.

Dani Worthington continued: “The pandemic disruptions are making everything worse for homeless children. It was harder for them to keep up with their lessons in lockdown; they didn’t always have access to Wi-Fi or the equipment they needed. The bottom line is that without a safe home, education suffers. This was a massive issue before coronavirus hit – but the pandemic has intensified the problem, which is deeply worrying.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Without a safe and secure home, a child’s life chances can be deeply disrupted. This is a national scandal – and without action, the extra harm being done to homeless children as a result of the pandemic may never be undone. Homeless children must not be the invisible victims of this crisis.

“We still don’t know what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be on this generation of children. But for now, Shelter is here to support and give hope to the families who need us the most. With the public’s support we will do all we can to make sure every child has a safe and secure home – this winter and beyond.”

* Shelter https://england.shelter.org.uk/


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