‘Over half’ of teachers have worked with homeless children in UK – survey

More than half of the UK’s state teachers have worked with homeless in the past three years, according to a new study.

Homeless charity Shelter said it was now commonplace for teachers to work at a school with children who were homeless or became homeless, who often experience hunger, poor hygiene and absenteeism.

The research found 88 per cent of these teachers saying children missing school as a key issue, with 87% reporting children are coming to school hungry. A follow-up survey found almost three quarters of teachers (73 per cent) said homeless children or children living in bad housing have had their education more negatively affected than children in suitable housing.

‘A child’s life chances can be deeply disrupted’

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.”

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. Key findings include:

  • 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.

Dani Worthington is a headteacher in Batley, a town in the heavily built-up district of Kirklees, West Yorkshire. She 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 Children who did well when they lived in a stable home became withdrawn and unable to follow their lessons.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.”

‘Pandemic is making it worse for homeless children’

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 paint a worrying picture, with pandemic disruptions appearing to have set children without a suitable home even further back. Almost three-quarters of teachers say that homeless children or children living in bad housing have had their education more negatively affected than children in suitable housing.

“The pandemic disruptions are making everything worse for homeless children,” added Dani. “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.”

Click here for the full report.

Author: Simon Weedy

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