Insecure, unsuitable and poor-quality housing is increasingly a barrier to children going to school, according to an education charity that works with persistently absent pupils and their families to improve school attendance in England.
School-Home Support (SHS), which tries to address the root causes of high absence rates through whole-family support, says 19% of the pupils it works with cite where they live as a major barrier to school attendance.
The data comes at a time when ministers, policymakers and school leaders are increasingly concerned about higher levels of absence in many schools in England since the Covid pandemic, and are developing initiatives to try to get children back into class.
The proportion of children citing housing concerns as an obstacle to attendance jumped from 11% last year to 19% this academic year, a year-on-year increase of 73%, according to SHS, which says housing is now one of the top three issues for pupils it supports.
The other two are feelings and behaviour, cited by 27% of respondents, and confidence and self-esteem, cited by 25%. The data is drawn from a cohort of 383 young people whom the charity worked with in the 2022-23 autumn and spring terms.
The children it works with include those whose families may have been forced to move into temporary accommodation or an emergency refuge for their own safety, and suddenly find themselves a long way from school.
Unsuitable housing, or poor housing where there is no space to study or do homework, also make it challenging for pupils to engage with their studies and attend school regularly, the charity says.
Attendance data from the Department for Education (DfE) reveals that absences in the spring term this year were still 50% higher than before the pandemic, while in 2021-22 more than one in five secondary pupils were “persistently absent”, missing 10% or more of sessions.
Increased anxiety and lack of mental health support are thought to be among other factors behind the increase in children missing school since the Covid pandemic, with some children struggling to even leave the house.
In one SHS case study, Ben (not his real name) and his mother were living in a refuge after a domestic violence incident. The refuge was miles away from school and Ben’s mother was unable to afford the bus fare every day, so he missed one in five classes a week.
The family was referred to SHS, which worked with them to secure council housing. Their support worker also encouraged Ben to join the school homework club to catch up on missed lessons and his attendance improved.
SHS’s chief executive officer, Jaine Stannard, acknowledged recent government efforts to improve attendance, but said schools needed dedicated funding to provide pastoral as well as academic catch-up support for those children struggling to engage.
“Our remit is to improve attendance, but when practitioners start to work with a family, the priority is to find out what is going on for that family and dig a little deeper into barriers to school.
“If you are living in temporary accommodation miles away from school or have spent the last night in a car, that needs to be the priority conversation. There are no quick fixes. Conversations about attendance can come later on. By addressing underlying causes of poor attendance early on, we can prevent issues from escalating.”
A government spokesperson said: “Schools, trusts and local authorities should always work together with other local partners to understand the barriers to attendance and provide support for families where needed.”