Britain’s housing crisis: The impact on children

 Falling behind: homeless teenagers are struggling in school, staff say. (photo via Shutterstock)

Children around the country are preparing for their GCSE exams, but some teenagers are more worried about how they are going to get to their schools on time than learning maths formulas.

In Newham, east London, teachers are scrambling to find emergency accommodation near their schools to ensure children who have been rehoused far away can arrive on time to sit their exams.

Falling educational attainment, hunger and sudden removal from school of homeless children are all increasingly common in London, headteachers and education welfare officers say.

More than 76,000 children are living in temporary accommodation in England – a number roughly equivalent to the population of Guildford, Surrey.

 Some teachers are not aware [there is a problem] until they disappear. There’s a seat empty. And then you find out they’re in Birmingham.’
– Education welfare officer, Newham

And as the numbers of families living in B&Bs and hostels spike, education welfare officers speak of schools struggling to cope with the dislocation caused by London’s housing crisis.

A Newham welfare officer highlighted how an A-star student with a turbulent family life was moved two hours from her school and saw her predicted grades markedly slip through poor attendance and punctuality. She described how Muslim girls rapidly lose confidence when, as is regularly the case, they are moved to predominantly white areas in north Kent.

There are knock-on effects to children’s nutrition, health and attainment. ‘I don’t think you can expect a child to achieve if they’re in a permanent state of flux,’ the officer said.

Teachers are often unaware of the dire housing circumstances in which children are living, she added. ‘Some teachers are not aware [there is a problem] until they disappear. There’s a seat empty. And then you find out they’re in Birmingham.’

Families are finding it increasingly difficult to cope as London rents have soared to a reported average of £1,100 per month.

Related story: Scale of UK housing crisis revealed

A school learning mentor in Harrow explained how a hospital cleaning supervisor and his family were recently evicted after a £300 increase in their monthly rent. And this is a common occurrence. She says she has to call the council housing officers on an almost daily basis to insist families be rehoused closer to their childrens’ school.

Mark Lancaster, head of school at St Ann’s Church of England primary in Haringey, said: ‘I had a family in here recently who were almost in tears. They were being moved from Haringey to another borough and didn’t want their son to leave the school.

‘It’s not good for children to be constantly moving schools, I really feel for them. At any one time there is usually one or two pupils who are facing being moved out of borough.’

Lancaster fears as the impact of the welfare reforms hits the school will lose more pupils due to families moving out. ‘I am often being asked to write letters of support to argue that families do have a connection to the area and should stay here because their children go to school here.

‘It’s not that their attendance suffers, but they often struggle to get here on time. We had one family where the mother had just given birth and the dad was working nights. And he had to come home from his shift and bring his child to school from another borough. If a child is late, even if it is only by half an hour, that is still two and a half hours of learning they are missing a week, and it can be very disruptive for the class too.’ 

Related story: Get the data – Britain’s housing turmoil in numbers