Homeless at school: 56% of teachers have worked with homeless children

Posted 18 Nov 2020

Shelter warns homeless children “must not be the invisible victims” of this pandemic

In the last three years, over half of state school teachers in Britain (56%) have worked at a school with children who were homeless or became homeless, a major study by Shelter and YouGov reveals.

The charity’s findings show most teachers have first-hand knowledge of the damage done by the housing emergency to education –– with it now commonplace to see children grappling with homelessness at school. With the impact of the pandemic making housing inequalities worse, Shelter warns that this desperate situation could worsen for the 136,000 homeless children living in Britain.

In the last three years, 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:

  • 88% of these teachers reported children missing school as a key issue. This is often because children can face significant difficulties with their journey to school if they become homeless and are accommodated a long way from their former home.

  • 87% 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% reported tiredness as an issue for homeless children and those living in bad housing. In overcrowded accommodation children may struggle to sleep.

  • 89% 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.

Shelter’s research resonates with Dani Worthington, a headteacher in Batley, 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 Children who did well when they lived in a stable home became withdrawn and unable to follow their lessons.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.”

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 (73%) say that homeless children or children living in bad housing have had their education more negatively affected than children in suitable housing.

Dani Worthington continues: “The pandemic disruptions are making everything worse for homeless children. 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.”

Alongside its bid to get more secure social homes built, Shelter is urging the public to support its frontline services as they contend with a surge in demand triggered by the pandemic. Shelter’s services are open 365 days a year to provide expert advice and support to families facing homelessness, which includes helping families to access a safe home.

One of the families Shelter has supported this year is single dad Mark Holland, 34, and his six-year-old daughter Macy. Mark and Macy, from Hertfordshire, became homeless in 2019. Throughout the first national lockdown they were forced to sofa surf. After the lockdown ended, they were placed into temporary accommodation by their local council. But it was so far from Macy’s school it required two long bus journeys, with the fares costing £100 per week.

Mark said: “The temporary accommodation was awful. There was hardly any room for me to help Macy with her schoolwork; we didn’t even have a small table. And there were people hanging around outside who would disturb Macy’s sleep. We didn’t have our own kitchen facilities, which made it harder for me to cook for her. 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.”

With Shelter’s support, Mark and Macy moved into their new permanent social home in November 2020. Both are looking forward to spending their first Christmas in their own home.

Mark continued: “Just a few weeks ago I was sitting in that horrible room thinking, ‘are we going to have to spend Christmas here?’ I lost hope; I felt like everyone had turned their backs on us. But speaking to Shelter gave me hope. Just having someone to listen gave me hope.

“And now we have a home that is all ours; our own kitchen, our own garden - everything.  We can’t wait to decorate this Christmas with decorations that Macy has made. Without a proper home, Macy’s education could have been badly affected. Children need a secure home to thrive. But now Macy has her own home, she can do anything. She can fly.”

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.

“We still don’t know what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be on this generation of children. But for now, Shelter is here to support and give hope to the families who need us the most. With the public’s support we will do all we can to make sure every child has a safe and secure home – this winter and beyond.”

To donate to Shelter’s urgent winter appeal and give hope to families facing homelessness, please visit www.shelter.org.uk/donate.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Pre COVID-19 survey: Shelter commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey of 1,507 state school teachers across Great Britain (26th February - 8th March 2020), on the prevalence and impacts of the housing crisis on children at their schools, alongside eight qualitative interviews with teachers that responded to the survey. The survey was carried out online using the YouGov panel and weighted to be representative of all state school teachers in Great Britain, by school type, region, age and gender.

  • 56% of teachers had experience of children in their school who were, or became, homeless and had to live in temporary housing (e.g. hostel, studio flat or B&B) provided by the council in the last three years.

  • 88% of teachers who had experience of children who were homeless or living in bad housing in their school in the last three years say that missing classes or days of school was an issue for a child or children at their school due to living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness.

  • 87% of teachers who had experience of children who were homeless or living in bad housing in their school in the last three years say that coming to school hungry was an issue for a child or children at their school due to living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness.

  • 89% of teachers who had experience of children who were homeless or living in bad housing in their school in the last three years say that arriving at school in unwashed or dirty clothing was an issue for a child or children at their school due to living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness.

  • 94% of teachers who had experience of children who were homeless or living in bad housing in their school in the last three years say that arriving at school tired was an issue for a child or children at their school due to living in bad housing or experiencing homelessness

In order to explore the themes raised by its polling in more detail, Shelter also carried out anonymous interviews with eight teachers working in primary and secondary schools.

  • One of the teachers reflected on how exhausted a young pupil became because she was moved to emergency homeless accommodation in a different area: “She leaves home at 6am every morning to get to school because the local authority have no homes so she has been temporarily rehoused [out of area] ... the family of four are living in one room at a B&B. Her attendance has dropped severely, she has become ill and she is always tired.”

  • Another secondary school teacher shared the experience of one 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. 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. So, he had such a horrible time of things and, despite all support that we possibly could provide, it's just not enough from the student's perspective."

Post COVID-19 survey: Shelter subsequently ran a further survey among teachers with the aim of collecting additional evidence on the impact of homelessness and poor housing on children as the pandemic causes extra disruptions to everyday life. This involved surveying 1,072 teachers in the UK (15th – 25th October 2020) online using the YouGov panel, including 1,061 teachers in Great Britain. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the teaching profession by phase, region, age and gender. The figure in this press release relates to the 763 teachers in Great Britain who have had experience of children who were homeless or living in bad housing during the pandemic.

  • Seven in ten (73%) teachers say that children who are experiencing homelessness or living in bad housing have had their education more negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than other children at their school.

Government statistics detailing the number of homeless children in Britain:

  • The number of homeless children in Britain is the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation (TA) in England, Wales and Scotland.

  • There are 127,240 homeless children living in TA in England. This is correct as at 30th June 2020. This is available at: MHCLG, Live tables on homelessness, Statutory homelessness live tables, Table TA1

  • There are 7,280 homeless children living in TA in Scotland. This is correct as at 31st March 2020. This is available at: Scottish government, Homelessness in Scotland: 2019 to 2020, Table 31

  • The number of homeless children living in TA in Wales is estimated by taking the number of families with children figure and using a multiplier of 1.75 children per family with children, which is the average for families in Wales from the 2011 Census. There are 849 families with children living in TA in Wales. This is correct as at 31st March 2020. This is available at: Welsh Government, StatsWales, Homelessness, Households in Temporary Accommodation, Households accommodated temporarily by accommodation type and household type (Post 2015-16)

About Shelter: Shelter is the UK’s leading housing and homelessness charity and believes that everyone should have a safe home. It helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through its free emergency helpline, webchat service, and local advice, support and legal services. And it campaigns to make sure that one day no one will have to turn to Shelter for help. For free and expert housing advice visit: https://england.shelter.org.uk/get_help