More than half of British state school teachers say they have worked with children who were homeless or became homeless in the last three years.
A new study by housing charity Shelter reveals that it is now commonplace to see children grappling with problems stemming from homelessness when they should be focused on their lessons.
Britain has 136,000 children registered as homeless, but most experts predict that figure will rise because of the pandemic.
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.
Of those teachers questioned in the poll, 88% said homeless children are missing school because of travel difficulties after being moved a long way from their former home.
One reported how a girl she teaches has to leave at 6am each morning after being moved out of the area by her local authority, causing her attendance to drop.
A further 87% reported children coming to school hungry because they do not have suitable cooking facilities in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels.
And 94% said homeless children are often tired because they struggle to sleep in overcrowded accommodation.
Dani Worthington, a headteacher in Batley, West Yorkshire, 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“Children who did well when they lived in a stable home became withdrawn and unable to follow their lessons.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.”
“The bottom line is that without a safe home, education suffers,” Ms Worthington continued. “This was a massive issue before coronavirus hit – but the pandemic has intensified the problem, which is deeply worrying.”
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.
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.
“The temporary accommodation was awful,” said Mark. “There was hardly any room for me to help Macy with her schoolwork; we didn’t even have a small table.
“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.”
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.
“Without a proper home, Macy’s education could have been badly affected,”
Mark continued. “Children need a secure home to thrive. But now Macy has her own home, she can do anything. She can fly.”