Half of teachers in England work with homeless children

Posted 22 Dec 2023

Shelter warns housing emergency is inflicting untold damage on children’s education as teachers report missed school days, hunger and exhaustion

Alarming new research from Shelter exposes the devastating impact of homelessness on school age children. Half of teachers at state schools in England (49%) work at a school with children who are homeless or who have become homeless in the last year.

With a dire shortage of social homes, and sky-high private rents forcing more families into homelessness, there are now nearly 140,000 children living in temporary accommodation in England. This means 1 in 84 children are homeless in England today.

Shelter’s survey of more than 1,000 teachers - carried out by YouGov for the charity’s urgent appeal - paints an appalling portrait of a failing housing system that is inflicting untold damage on children’s education.

Shockingly, 91% of teachers who work with children who have experienced homelessness in the last year, say children’s housing issues are resulting in them coming to school tired. Children may find it difficult to sleep in temporary accommodation which can be overcrowded and where they often have to share beds with siblings or parents.

86% of these teachers say that children have missed school as a result of homelessness and housing problems. One reason for this is that families are regularly placed into temporary accommodation that is miles away from their local area, making it difficult for parents to get their children to school.

The poor and cramped conditions that so many children are living in are also having a detrimental effect on their ability to keep up academically. 83% say children have not been able to complete their homework because of a lack of space in their home or accommodation.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “With 1 in 84 children homeless in England right now, 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.”

Shelter’s research dives even deeper into the heart-breaking effects of the housing emergency on children, as witnessed by teachers who’ve worked with children experiencing homelessness in the last year:

  • 87% said that children have come to school hungry. Temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels often have only basic or no kitchen facilities at all.

  • 91% said that children’s living situation had negatively affected the mental health of children at their school. 81% reported it having a negative impact on physical health.

  • 78% reported friendship breakdowns among children struggling with homelessness and bad housing.

Shelter’s research resonates with Chiara, a teacher from East London. She said: “Many of the young people I teach are being put at a huge disadvantage by homelessness and bad housing. I have students who have been moved miles out of their area. They get up at 5am just to make it in to school. They’re hungry and tired. We do everything we can for them, but they end up falling behind.

“Some have been placed in temporary accommodation where they don’t even have locks on their doors. They hear alarms going off all night and people coming in and out. They don’t feel safe at all. It’s a vicious cycle because without a secure home, their education suffers.”

Polly Neate continued: "How do we expect children to concentrate in class and succeed without a safe place to call home? To end the nightmare of child homelessness the government must make renting more affordable and build decent social homes. Until then, we need the public’s support more than ever so that we can keep fighting for the families on the frontline of the housing emergency.”

In response to its findings, Shelter is urging the public to support its expert advisers as they work tirelessly with thousands of families to help them find or keep hold of a safe home. The money raised through Shelter’s Urgent Winter Appeal will help it to continue to offer vital advice and support to families this Christmas, and beyond. To donate or find out more about the appeal, please visit shelter.org.uk/donate.

Ethan, 17, lives with his mum in Hackney, London. When Ethan was 11, his family received a S21 no fault eviction notice, which plunged them into homelessness. They were housed in temporary accommodation for the next six years where they dealt with appalling conditions including mould, disrepair, and pest problems. This had a huge impact on Ethan’s health, education, and wellbeing throughout his time at school.

Ethan said: “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.

“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.

“We were moved to different temporary accommodation after the first year. The building wasn’t looked after properly, and my room became covered in mould. Half of my things were destroyed because it was so damp, and I had to sleep on the couch or share a bedroom with my mum – which was hard. In the end, the damp became so bad that the floor in the living room rose by nearly a foot.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

About the research:

Shelter commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey of 1,017 state school teachers at primary, secondary and all through schools in the United Kingdom (7 – 21 November 2023) on their experiences of the housing emergency at their school. The results have been weighted and are representative of all state school teachers in the United Kingdom. The results in this release have been filtered to only those in England comprising a sample of 902 state school teachers.

  • 49% of teachers in England say that in the last 12 months a child they teach or interact with or attends the school that they work at were homeless, or became homeless and had to live in temporary housing (e.g. hostel, studio flat or B&B) provided by the council.

  • Teachers in England who had worked with homeless children in the last 12 months reported the following impacts: 91% report that ‘arriving at school tired’ ‘has been an issue for children at their school because of living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness within the last 12 months’;

  • 86% say that ‘missing classes or days of school’ ‘has been an issue for children at their school because of living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness within the last 12 months’;

  • 83% say children ‘not completing homework or struggling to complete homework because of lack of space at home,’ ‘has been an issue for children at their school because of living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness within the last 12 months’;

  • 87% said that ‘coming to school hungry’ ‘has been an issue for children at their school because of living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness within the last 12 months’

Teachers in England who had worked with homeless children in the last 12 months were also asked: ‘Thinking generally across your experience to what extent, if at all, have these living situations had an impact on the following for this child or children?’

  • 91% said that it had had a ‘fairly or very negative impact’ on ‘their mental health’.

  • 81% said it had had ‘a fairly or very negative impact’ on ‘their physical health’.

These teachers were also asked ‘In your experience, does having a child/ children living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness have any impact on the school as a whole? This could be a positive or negative impact’.

  • 78% of these teachers reported that ‘having a child/children living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness had a negative impact on ‘friendship breakdown’

Shelter analysis shows that 1 in 84 children in England are homeless. This is the number of homeless children (139,916) compared to the total number of under 18s in England (11,774,602) from the 2021 Census: NOMIS TS007 - Age by single year.

Shelter analysis of government data, and data provided by councils through a freedom of information request has found that 139,916 children are currently homeless in England. These are children who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation arranged by the local authority under homelessness legislation and the number of children living in temporary accommodation arranged by Social Services under Section 17 of the Children’s Act. The full methodology is available here.

About Shelter:

Shelter exists to defend the right to a safe home and fight the devastating impact the housing emergency has on people and society. Shelter believes that home is everything. Shelters expert advisers offer vital support and advice to millions of families who are enduring the immense harm caused by housing emergency. Learn more at www.shelter.org.uk.