Responding to the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Bleak Houses’ report out today, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Austerity is not just a temporary phase for some families to endure, it is a day to day reality. We know from our own research that homelessness, hunger and other issues are having a terrible impact on children and on their ability to learn and enjoy school. Earlier this year, we wrote to every MP in England with examples of how children were feeling embarrassed and ashamed about their families’ living conditions and financial situations. In reality, it is the policy-makers who should be embarrassed and ashamed by all of this.”
Here is just one example from one school leader in the West Midlands: “This year has seen additional strain and emotional distress for children as we have seen families being evicted and made homeless. This has not been the case in my twenty years at the school but in the last two months five families have been impacted upon in this manner. This has caused significant distress and upset for the children.”
NAHT’s research showed that 75% of school leaders reported seeing an increase or significant increase in the number of parents coming to school to ask for financial support or support with essentials in the last five years. Across the country, schools are supporting children who are hungry, inadequately clothed, cold, tired because they are sharing a bed and living in cramped and crowded homes with little space and few amenities.
The Children’s Commissioner makes several recommendations, which include extending the Duty to Refer, which requires certain public bodies to notify local authorities of people they think are homeless or at risk of homelessness, to schools and GPs. We fear that placing more duties upon already overstretched services, without funding them properly, would be of no immediate benefit to the families who are clearly in very dire circumstances.
Mr Whiteman concluded: “There are thousands of families who need more help than they are getting. However, there are some examples where support is available but is not claimed. Schools can help by making sure that when children are in school, they get the support they need. Pupil Premium funding is available for this and NAHT’s recommendation would be for children to be automatically enrolled to receive the Pupil Premium, using the information councils already hold about their family situation.”
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