Housing

'A national scandal': Half of teachers in England work with homeless children, damning poll finds

Teachers are reporting kids missing school or being sleep deprived in class as a result of homelessness, warns housing charity Shelter

children facing homelessness

Teachers reported kids coming to school hungry, tired or even missing classes altogether because of their housing situation. Image: Taylor Flowe / Unsplash

The number of children experiencing homelessness in England is rising and teachers are reporting that it’s causing kids to struggle with their education, a new poll has found.

The YouGov poll, on behalf of housing charity Shelter, quizzed 1,000 teachers across the country and found almost half had taught a homeless child while at a state school.

The poll comes as the number of children living in temporary accommodation has hit a new high of 140,000 with one in 84 children now homeless in B&Bs, hotel rooms and other makeshift homes.

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Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The immense damage being inflicted on their education is a national scandal.

“An alarming number of teachers are bearing witness to the horrors of homelessness and bad housing that families tell our services about every day. Appalling stories of children falling asleep in class because they don’t have their own bed, and parents filled with worry because they can’t even cook a hot meal in their grim hostel without a kitchen.

“How do we expect children to concentrate in class and succeed without a safe place to call home?

A shortage of affordable homes, record-high rents and the wider cost of living is leaving more families than ever before living in temporary accommodation.

The effects are being seen at schools across England.

More than 90% of teachers who work with children who have experienced homelessness in the last year said children are coming to school tired as a result of housing issues that could see them living in overcrowded homes or sharing beds with siblings or parents.

Meanwhile, 86% of these teachers reported that they’d seen children skip school as a result of their housing difficulties, typically this may be because their temporary accommodation might be out of the local area.

The conditions leave children with a lack of space to complete homework and 83% of the teachers quizzed in the poll said they had seen kids fail to do their work as a result.

Some temporary accommodation placements have no basic cooking facilities at all. Almost nine out of 10 teachers reported kids coming to school hungry while a similar number pointed out how housing issues have negatively affected kids’ mental health.

The housing crisis is not only having an impact in children on school, it’s also leading to some schools closing their doors.

Hackney Council announced four primary schools will close their doors in 2024 due to declining pupil numbers.

Rising house prices in recent years have pushed families out of the London borough and left schools struggling to stay open.

The council’s strategic housing market assessment showed that household growth in Hackney until 2039 will be predominantly in single people and cohabiting households, with little change in the projection for families with children. 

There are currently more than 600 empty places in reception classes in Hackney and that was leading to declining funding levels as a result.

In 2022-2023 alone, the 58 primary schools in Hackney were missing more than £30m in funding compared to if classrooms were full, the council said.

“We know schools are much more than places where children and young people go to get an education, they are a core part of the local community,” said Anntoinette Bramble, Hackney Council’s cabinet member for education.

“Following what the data tells us means that we had to make an incredibly difficult decision. But this is the only way to ensure that we can minimise the long-term negative impact on Hackney education and more widely on the council’s budget, at a time of extreme financial pressure.”

Ethan and his mum know what it’s like to feel the sharp end of the housing crisis in Hackney.

The 17-year-old’s family were forced out of their home and into homelessness six years ago due to a no-fault eviction

Their time in temporary accommodation has been marred by mould, disrepair and pest problems and it’s had a big impact on Ethan’s education.

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials. Will you join us and sign the petition?

“We spent just over a year in the hostel when we were first evicted. The place was infested with cockroaches and there wasn’t any drinking water – we didn’t even have a kitchen. If you wanted to do dishes, you had to use a bucket in the shower and cooking anything was impossible, so I often went to school hungry,” said Ethan.   

“I was always so exhausted because I had to wake up so early to get to school. I got home at 5.30pm every day because I had to stay late to do my homework. There just wasn’t any space to concentrate at home – the place was so small that mum was constantly injuring herself, and we were always bumping into each other. It was a nightmare.”

To donate to Shelter’s Urgent Winter Appeal, head to shelter.org.uk/donate

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