Homeless Pupils “Arrive At School Hungry, Tired And In Dirty Clothing”

More than half of teachers in Britain have worked with children who were, or became, homeless and had to live in temporary housing in the past three years, a new survey has found.

The research, conducted by homeless charity Shelter, found that 56 per cent of teachers had taught children whose academic performance and general wellbeing were affected by their living situation, reports The Independent. Children who are homeless, or living in bad housing, arrive at school hungry, tired and in dirty clothing, while others miss class altogether, according to the findings. The report also warned that the situation was likely to worsen for tens of thousands of children as a result of the coronavirus crisis, which the report had not been able to fully consider because of data being collected before the UK’s first lockdown.

In the survey of 1,507 teachers, carried out in February and March across the UK, 94 per cent of staff who had worked with these children reported that arriving to class tired was a pressing issue. The poll also showed that 87 per cent of teachers had seen pupils arriving to class hungry, and about nine in 10 said that pupils experiencing bad housing or homelessness often missed classes or whole days of school.

One teacher, who remained anonymous in the report, saw how exhausted a young pupil became when she was moved to emergency homeless accommodation in a different local council area, meaning that she had to leave home at 6am to get to school on time. “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,” the teacher said.

Dani Worthington, a headteacher in Batley, West Yorkshire, told the PA news agency: “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 Children who did well when they lived in a stable home became withdrawn and unable to follow their lessons.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.”

In a similar report that Shelter carried out in 2017, one teacher said that “not having a permanent home has a massive impact on children’s ability to participate in school successfully in terms of lessons … in terms of building their friendships”. It can hold them back as they feel different to everybody,” the teacher added. That report also detailed the impact educators felt from working with children experiencing such hardships. “Teachers and education professionals described how working with children experiencing homelessness led them to feel emotionally and physically exhausted,” it found, adding: “They felt frustrated and, at times, despondent.”

It is thought the issue will worsen in 2020 as a result of the pandemic; to explore the potential effect on children experiencing homelessness while at school, Shelter carried out further research. In a survey of 1,072 teachers in October this year, 73 per cent said homeless children or children living in bad housing had had their education more negatively affected than their peers in suitable housing.

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.”