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Shelter report reveals the devastating impact of homelessness in the classroom

Posted 21 Dec 2017

A unique investigation by Shelter, exploring how teachers view the impact of homelessness on children, reveals that many are struggling to cope with the growing levels of homelessness in their classrooms.

In-depth interviews with primary and secondary teachers and education professionals from ten different schools across the country reveal that children who are homeless fall behind academically, fall asleep in class, and become socially isolated, anxious and withdrawn.

Teachers also described the negative impact homelessness in their classrooms had on them personally, leading them to feel emotionally and physically exhausted, frustrated and at times, despondent.

Key findings from the investigation reveal that:

  • Children’s mental health, attitudes and behaviours are negatively impacted. Teachers reported that homeless children often felt an overwhelming sense of displacement having lost a place that felt like home. Homelessness could also cause severe emotional trauma leading to emotional stress, anxiety and problematic behaviours

  • Homeless children’s educational attainment suffers as a result of homelessness. Studying could be challenging or impossible for students who did not have access to computers, or places to work. For those at crucial stages of their education, for example around exams, teachers felt it was difficult for them to ever catch up

  • Being moved from place to place, and the lack of facilities in emergency accommodation impacts children’s health and hygiene

  • Homeless children’s behaviour often changes, with younger children becoming withdrawn or upset, and older children lashing out, becoming angry, truanting or refusing to do any classwork

  • Children’s relationships with their peers suffers greatly. Teachers reported that children missed out on extra-curricular or social activities like discos, or that children felt like they weren’t able to fit in

Statistics: Below is a table of the top ten cities/towns in England worst affected by homelessness, with the highest equivalent numbers of homeless children per school.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: 'It’s deeply upsetting to hear about children who don’t have a home to call their own and end up falling behind at school, are socially isolated from their peers and suffer emotional trauma.

'No child should have their future put in jeopardy like this, let alone the 128,000 children in Britain who will wake up homeless on Christmas Day. This is the tragic result of a country buckling under the weight of sky high rents, welfare cuts and a chronic lack of affordable homes. We will all face the consequences if our young people are forced to grow up without a stable home and a good education.

'At Shelter, we will continue to do all we can to help families fight homelessness but we urgently need the public’s support. For the sake of future generations, we must pull together to end this devastating crisis for good.”

A primary pastoral care worker at a school in Birmingham said: 'I think it is a sad state of affairs when we live in the country that we live in and we have children that are homeless and that they are living in the conditions that they live in. You shouldn’t have to worry that you are going home to a bed and breakfast when you are a six-year-old really.'

A secondary school teacher from North West London, said: 'Homelessness has a massive negative impact on children, on their mental health and their attainment in school and just their life chances.'

A primary school teacher from West Sussex said of one of her homeless students: 'He didn’t know how to relate to children. He felt so different to them, he didn’t want to make friends with them or talk to them. He’s not developing any friendships [or] practising those skills of friendship. He’s missing out on that whole chunk of what school can provide.'

To support Shelter’s urgent Christmas appeal, please visit, or text SHELTER to 70080 to donate £3.

Notes to editors:

Sources for statistics table:

  • Number of homeless children is the number of children recorded as homeless and in temporary accommodation as at Q3 2017, taken from the latest DCLG homelessness statistics.

  • Number of schools is taken from ONS dataset on schools, and is the total of all types of schools, including state funded nurseries, special schools and independent schools.

  • The equivalent rate is calculated using the two figures above. This is an indicative/ equivalent average rate.

Qualitative report:

The research examined the impacts of homelessness on children seen through eyes of teachers and education professionals. To do this, Kantar Public, on behalf of Shelter, carried out a qualitative investigation comprised of 11 in-depth interviews with primary and secondary teachers and education professionals from 10 different schools across the country.

Teachers spoke about the homeless children they had taught who were living in a range of environments including:

  • temporary homeless accommodation

  • severely overcrowded poor housing

  • sofa-surfing or staying with friends and family on a temporary basis