‘National scandal’: Over half of school teachers work with homeless children

A new Shelter poll reveals how the housing emergency has left children suffering from extreme hunger and tiredness in class

Homelessness has become a common sight in classrooms across Britain in the last three years according to a new study by homelessness charity Shelter, who have called the crisis a ‘national scandal’.

More than half the 1,507 state school teachers quizzed in the poll, carried out by YouGov, said they had worked at a school with children who were homeless or became homeless and suffered from extreme tiredness or hunger as a result.

With the Covid-19 pandemic threatening to make housing inequalities worse, Shelter warned that the 136,000 children living in homelessness in Britain face tough times ahead.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate 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.”

The poll found that 87 per cent of teachers who had experience of children in their school who were homeless or “living in bad housing” since 2017 said such children were coming to school hungry as a result.

Almost 95 per cent of those teachers reported tiredness among homeless or badly housed children and nearly 90 percent came to school in unwashed or dirty clothes.

Some pupils failed to turn up at all. Almost 90 per cent of teachers who had seen homeless or badly housed children in their school said those kids missed classes or full days, many due to being housed in temporary accommodation far from their former home and school.

This was a struggle for single dad Mark Holland, 34, and his six-year-old daughter Macy. The pair, from Hertfordshire, were made homeless last year and spent the first national lockdown staying with friends.

After the lockdown they were placed in temporary accommodation by their local council but it was so far from Macy’s school that it took two long bus journeys to get there.

That left Mark covering fares costing £100 per week and fearing that Macy would be unable to concentrate in class.

Mark said: “The temporary accommodation was awful. But the worst part was being so far from her school. I worried about the longer journey making Macy tired. She is super smart and loves school. But the temporary accommodation meant that she didn’t have the space and quiet she needed to rest and recuperate.” 

Shelter also interviewed eight teachers in primary and secondary schools to uncover the impact homelessness can have on education. 

One secondary school teacher shared the experience of a student whose housing situation had such an extreme impact on his mental health, he was eventually forced to drop out of school altogether.

“He was in temporary accommodation on his own and just couldn’t handle anything,” said the teacher, according to the report. “His situation was such a mental strain on him that he just couldn’t handle being at college anymore, so he dropped out in the end.” 

Dani Worthington, a head teacher in Batley, West Yorkshire, has found that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the pressures that children face without a safe and secure home.

Her experience chimes with the views of teachers across the UK, with three-quarters of those quizzed by Shelter finding 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,” said Dani. “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.”

In response to Shelter’s findings, the government said that families will be protected from eviction until after Christmas due to six-month eviction notice periods and the ‘winter truce’ between December 11 and January 11.

A government spokesperson said: “We’re investing £700 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone and our Homelessness Reduction Act has helped over 270,000 households who were homeless or at risk of homelessness into more permanent accommodation, since it came into force in 2018.

“We continue to work to with councils, charities and other partners to help them prevent and relieve homelessness in their areas.”

The link between poverty and education has been the focus of Marcus Rashford’s efforts this week too.

The Manchester United footballer has continued his bid to help kids in poverty with the launch of the Marcus Rashford Book Club and his own children’s book.

Following his efforts to battle food poverty earlier this year, Rashford is now expanding his focus to help children who are struggling out of class to get access to books.

Rashford said: “We know that there are approximately 400,000 children across the UK that have never owned a book, children that are in vulnerable environments. That has to change. My books are, and will be, for every child, even if I have to deliver them myself. We will reach them.”