‘The best thing for these children is to just let them sleep in class’

Approximately 100,000 children are homeless in Britain. Shelter visited schools in London to  discover the impact that homelessness has on pupils. Teachers reported primary school-aged children sleeping in cars, teachers providing uniform and even a place to sleep during the day.

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“We make more referrals to child psychologists than ever before. Some of these referrals are hard when the child isn’t in borough. The kids get ping-ponged around.

During the last school inspection, I produced a report on what was important to children. But the inspectors went straight to attainment, the grades the children were achieving, and just focused on that. I couldn’t believe it. The governors asked the inspectors to come back and interview the school support workers and they did come back the next day and that time they did get it.”



Mrs. R

“This term we’ve had seven families who have been moved or who are in the process of being moved . This isn’t the norm. Six or seven years ago these families would have been totally secure. It’s a total shift.

Children mirror their parents. They worry about their parents. One child, who is in temporary accommodation, went on a three-night residential trip with the school. He spent a huge amount of time worrying about how his mum would be coping without him. That was his main worry. Some children get worried because they miss their parents, he was worried about how his mother would be coping.”

The sisters walk along the corridor in school uniform in the temporary accommodation block in which they are living.

Mrs. L

“In this area, landlords are pushing rent up and people out, making families homeless.
We have pupils that have to wake up at 5 o’clock every day to get ready for school and then they’re on the road. They spend hours and hours every day travelling. They are exhausted.”


Miss J

“Children without a permanent home are visibly tired throughout the day and find it hard to concentrate and stay on task. We’ve even had big beanbags put in the classroom so children can sleep there, because they’re desperately tired. The best thing that we can do for their well-being is let them sleep.  We’ll say, ‘Pick a teddy, get a blanket, and lie down, and just sleep.’

One particular family were sleeping in their car. We helped with the uniform for the younger ones and made sure they were clean.  You can imagine the quality of the sleep they were getting and it was during a very cold winter spell… to see one of the boys in 5the standing there, sobbing, in the busy playground with everyone running around playing, it was absolutely horrendous to see him in a complete and utter state, tears streaming.
The impact homelessness on that child is profound. Their life chances will be completely changed, their career opportunities will be completely changed, all because they couldn’t engage in learning at school. Even their future relationships are impacted upon and possibly won’t be secure.

Housing is such a big issue. The pressure on schools is to keep their attendance above 90-something percent. When schools are inspected that’s one of the things they look at, and yet they don’t see the stories behind those children who aren’t even reaching 80%. Yet 79% is amazing for some children considering what they have to do to get here, but that’s not seen, that’s hidden, it’s just a number. Obviously the statistics don’t tell the story, do they?

Schools are definitely providing for families in a way they never did before.  So when we have a package of care, from a disadvantaged fund, we spend that on the children – food, clothes, bedding, whatever we think would benefit their lives. “

Cleo (pictured) was in temporary accommodation with her baby brother and mother Francesca. Francesca reported that Cleo’s grades were affected by the move into a hostel. Click on her picture to read her story.

Miss S

” They’ll be late. Quite often they’ll lose bits of uniform because when they pack up, everything has to go into storage. We’ve had children sleeping in cars and coming in dishevelled.”


Mrs. H

“Three families in temporary accommodation had to ring a number at 5pm every day to find out where they had to stay each night. They’d pick up their key at 7pm. From the time school finished until they made the phone call they would sit in the car, cheap food outlets and occasionally a library. That went on for weeks before we realised.

I have never seen anything as heart-wrenching as a child realising what is happening. You see children who are used to life being like that. It’s like a toughness. They’ve accepted it. I’ve had pupils who don’t want it to be the weekend and are devastated when school holidays come. It’s such a contrast with other children.”




  • 100,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. You could give them the security they deserve. Donate here 

AUDIO:  Karen and her family applied as homeless after their landlord served them with an eviction notice and her husband stopped working as a result of ill health. She says that it’s helpful to have the full name of your housing officer and to keep in regular contact with them. She also gives advice on where she got support from:

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