Schools in Lewisham have “no choice but to take on a social work role”, according to a new report. 

The report on the impact of living in temporary accommodation on children, which follows a review from the children and young people select committee, has detailed the measures taken by primary schools to support pupils suffering homelessness and their families.  

The committee visited two schools, Rathfern and Rushey Green Primary Schools in Catford, who reported a “shift in the support needs of families”. 

“Whereas previously support was needed in the form of additional lessons, increasingly families needed additional play opportunities, emotional and mental health support, somebody to talk to, support with job applications, CV preparation, benefits applications, housing advocacy,” according to the report.  

The schools have taken to writing letters to help fix housing problems. 

“Both schools acknowledged that while social work is not the school’s responsibility, they have no choice but to take on that role, supporting parents, signposting to specialist services, writing letters to help resolve housing problems.  

“Often writing has little practical effect other than giving the parent a voice and offering much needed reassurance. Both schools reported increasing demand for foodbank vouchers,” according to the impact review. 

To receive an effective education a child needs good school attendance, to be punctual, to have space to do homework and space to play, to have a healthy diet and lifestyle, to be well rested and able to engage in lessons.  

In contrast living in temporary accommodation can cause children to have poor sleep, no space and suffer ill-health.  

The committee heard one of the measures put in place to support families included making extended days available to those struggling with long journeys to allow children time before school to eat breakfast, and after school to play or do homework. 

“One school described a child becoming very possessive when toys were brought out.  

“The child’s toys had all been packed away because the family was in very cramped temporary accommodation. The school responded by making toys available to be played with after school,” the report read.  

One school gives out recycled uniform to all reception children regardless of need and subsidises school dinners so that all children can have second or third helpings.  

Both of the schools are part of the Magic Breakfast5 programme, and give out bagels for breakfast before school.  

But according to the report: “Schools can only offer support to families living in temporary accommodation if they are aware of their living arrangements.  

“Schools reported that families often take a long time before they open up to the school, whether because of embarrassment – one parent said ‘I feel like a failure for not providing a nice home for my children’ – or fear of officialdom, particularly if they have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).” 

The schools said it was important to identify needs early “in order to break trajectories and see academic success and to avoid exclusions”.  

Families and schools expressed frustration to the committee about their dealings with housing officers, whom, according to schools, families cannot always name.  

Staff had experience of working in other schools in the borough and the committee heard that good practice in supporting families living in temporary accommodation “is not consistent” across all Lewisham primary schools.  

“They felt families could benefit from examples of good practice being shared across the borough’s schools via Lewisham Learning,” according to the report.  

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “This important issue was identified by the select committee as an area for review.

“Following that review, the members will have an opportunity to explore their findings further and put questions to council officers at the Children and Young People select committee on Thursday (January 23).”