One in four primary schools have homeless pupils, survey finds

Schools are acting as a safe haven for ‘exhausted’ homeless children, review says

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network says many schools provide a ‘safe haven’ for vulnerable and homeless children. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network says many schools provide a ‘safe haven’ for vulnerable and homeless children. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

More than one in four primary schools across the State have homeless children who are suffering from anxiety, poor self-esteem and exhaustion.

That is the finding of a survey conducted by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) which says many schools are providing a “safe haven” for vulnerable children.

The survey of more than 1,000 school principals found that 27 per cent of primary schools have homeless children.

Principals say the daily reality of families living in homeless accommodation often results in poor physical and mental wellbeing among children, low self-esteem, exhaustion and feelings of isolation.

They say these issues can affect children’s school attendance along with reduced engagement and participation in school life and learning.

The findings are set to be discussed at the network’s annual conference which is taking place in Dublin on Friday.

Páiric Clerkin, the network’s chief executive, said: “Homelessness for children is lonely. They often become isolated from their closest friends and relations – they become restricted and confined; their play area reduced to a hotel corridor, homework done at the side of the bed in a room the family share.”

Positive place

Schools, by contrast, were often the one positive place where they could be kids.

He said many school leaders and teachers were quietly supporting these children and their families on a daily basis.

“Four thousand children in Ireland are currently homeless and the problem is spreading from cities to provincial towns as demand within the housing rental market exacerbates,” Mr Clerkin said.

“Due to the sheer scale of the current housing crisis, we are a number of years away from making significant inroads on effectively addressing the homeless issue in Ireland.”

He said principals and the network were continuing to advocate for greater resources to meet the needs of homeless children as well as those living in the direct provision system for asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, virtually all primary schools do not allow phones to be used during school hours, but more than one-third of principals say staff have encountered problems as a result of social media use in school.

Social media

In addition, almost 70 per cent say they have encountered problems as a result of smartphone or social media use outside of school.

The IPPN’s president, David Ruddy, said that more often than not the onus is put on schools to resolve these issues, even though they have occurred outside of school hours on a personal device.’

“Parents that choose to purchase a smartphone for their child, also need to take responsibility and contribute to the education of their children on the use of smartphones and social media on a social level as well as a developmental level,” he said.

The conference has heard calls for more time to be provided for principals in smaller schools to focus on management.

About half of primary school principals – almost 2,000 – also teach and say they do not have enough time to run their schools properly and ensure the needs of children are met.

The network wants a minimum of one leadership and management day per week for these teaching principals.