The Leading Magazine for Primary Educators
Lack Of Stable Living Spaces Is Affecting Children
Main Subject: CPD
It’s time for some home improvements, in school and out
When Ania and her 15-year-old daughter, Mila, moved into their two-bedroom flat, amongst the various other dirt marks, damages and spills on the carpet, they were horrified to find blood stains. The carpet was eventually removed, but not replaced, and the bare concrete floor made heating the home much more costly. As Ania was out of work, she struggled to pay those bills.
In their now cold flat, Ania and Mila became more susceptible to flu – particularly as they both suffer from asthma – and Mila’s attendance at school dropped dramatically to 54 per cent.
This is not an uncommon story for the families that work with us here at School-Home Support. In the last year, housing issues like these have become the single biggest problem in terms of children getting the most out of their education. And it’s incredibly difficult sort out things such as attainment and attendance without these students first having some stability and security in where they live. So while the focus on the housing crisis has rightly been placed on the shortage of affordable homes, this also has knock-on effects that perhaps aren’t getting enough exposure
For a start, there are lots of homes within the ‘affordable’ bracket that are badly dilapidated, and some landlords will avoid paying for necessary repairs because they know families’ options are limited. The benefits cap has also led to an increase in evictions. As landlords raise prices, families find themselves unable to afford housing in the area in which they already live. Those families are then being placed in temporary accommodation far away from their support networks and schools.
This happened to June, a single mother, whose landlord tried to intimidate her into moving out so he could sidestep the necessary legal requirements of the eviction process. But because June and her family weren’t ‘officially’ being evicted, the council wouldn’t rehome them. When the landlord relented and went down the formal route, June approached Karen, the School- Home Support practitioner working in her children’s school, who arranged legal aid support.
Finally, the council offered the family temporary accommodation, in Leicester, over 100 miles away.
Of course, there was no way June and her children could move so far from her family and support network. Karen advocated on their behalf and managed to get temporary accommodation in London, but even that was about an hour away from the school.
Unsurprisingly, the children’s punctuality and attendance suffered.
Even when families are located close to their school, the lack of suitable properties can still affect attendance and attainment. Riya and her four children, for example, were crowded into a two-bedroom flat. Her daughter, Seema, had one room, while the three sons shared the other. Riya slept on the sofa. The school asked SHS practitioner Claire to work with the family as all of the children’s attendance had been dropping.
As they weren’t getting enough sleep, they were often tired in the morning and either got into school late, or didn’t go in at all.
Fortunately, in these cases and others like them, at SHS we were able to help families solve their housing crisis and provide emergency funds, getting their children in school and ready to learn. But as local authorities experience ever-increasing demands for housing, the number of families facing similar challenges is likely to continue to rise.
It’s important that schools develop the skills to engage with children and families in order to understand and mitigate whatever difficulties these pupils might be facing at home.
To do this you need to build constructive relationships. It can be easy to assume that parents are deliberately not engaging with you, but in difficult situations they can feel overwhelmed, and perhaps lose focus on the importance of education. Figure out a plan of action that will work for both of you. If you know a pupil is going to be travelling long-distance from temporary accommodation, how can you respond constructively if she is occasionally late? If a pupil is living in an overcrowded and dilapidated flat, he may have more difficulty completing homework; what can you do in school to help with this?
About the Author
Jan Tallis is Chief Executive of School- Home Support (schoolhomesupport.org.uk )