Why housing matters to educational results

It’s all a bit of a mystery it seems. How is it that children from a particular defined class and ethnicity can enter schooling at 5 well up there in terms of ability but by the end of secondary education, their ranking has plummeted dramatically? According to educational think-tank CentreForum’s latest report , the answer is simple: it all comes down to ‘parental support.’ By this they mean key mum and dad behaviours such as: attendance at parent’s evenings; talking about school and subject choices; overseeing homework; taking meals together as a family; and getting the kids to bed at a set time each night.

Makes sense to me. I recall my dad asking me what I’d learned at school over our 4.30 on-the-dot dinner. Knowing my parents were interested encouraged me to package a neat anecdote about the school day or to cherry-pick the piece of learning I thought would be most engaging. They probably didn’t know it but making me think about my learning, made me learn. The importance my mum and dad placed on parent’s evenings was demonstrated by the fact they always got dressed up for them and reported back on them. They made sure I had a regular bedtime. They didn’t insist on it, but I did my homework as soon as I got it anyway (unsupervised though). There was an order to my early life and school fitted neatly into that. I was lucky. However, I can’t helping thinking that the current state of housing for many renters with families might be at least partially responsible for these support mechanisms now not being implemented to the degree they need to be.

Basically, this is an excellent example of not being able to have your cake and eat it. In the context of the findings of the CentreForum report this means, you can’t expect challenging educational achievement targets to be reached, if while tinkering with education, you’re also failing to provide decent homes for a significant proportion of the population. Even more of an issue when that subset causing you most concern, is the one very likely to be experiencing housing insecurity.

Why might that be the case? A couple of years ago Polly Toynbee wrote a piece in The Guardian about the difficulties faced by families in ‘temporary’ accommodation on social housing waiting lists. One of her interviewees was Janice:

Janice has been here for five-and-a-half years, with her husband and two children now aged nearly two and five. In one corner of her room, on top of a small fridge, stand a couple of electric rings to cook on. That’s the kitchen. There’s a shower room in a cupboard and all the family’s possessions are stuffed into a stack of suitcases squashed by the door. There is only just enough room for the double bed which they all share, the four of them sleeping together restlessly.

Toynbee, Polly http://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/nov/11/-sp-no-exit-britains-housing-trap Last Accessed 4/5/16

Janice we learn was university educated and a professional prior to losing her job and finding herself in need of emergency accommodation. Yet, even with that aspiration we can imagine a time when if things don’t change, the 2 children living their lives in one room might not make the best pupils. Where I had a dinner the same time every day with my parents (about 5 minute after Dad got home from work), Janice’s children might not have that. They don’t even have room for a dinner table for goodness’ sake.  How about doing homework regularly? Maybe the double bed won’t be conducive to that. Neither will having everyone else around. Including, by the way, people you don’t know in the room next door.

It doesn’t take much imagination to consider why Janice might feel uncomfortable about attending parent’s evenings.  They could feel judged by other parents and not know them at all. Unlikely that Janice would invite her kids’ friends over for tea so getting to know parents better. Throw into the mix the fact that those renting are often required to move on a regular basis and we see the potential for disruption in the schooling of renters’ children. Building a relationship with a school and other parents there, is an important part of ensuring the kind of parental support CentreForum refer to and it’s hard to do that when you’re forever moving around. Obviously.

I’m imagining a scenario here but basically, it seems to me that if you want the educational standards you’ve set to be reached by all, you need support from a secure housing environment. You fail to provide enough long-term, secure, affordable accommodation and clearly you’re also going to fail to hit those educational targets. But much more importantly, you’re going to fail a whole generation of children who will be labelled as low-achievers based not on a lack of ability but because they didn’t have the homes, security and space in which to thrive. And that’s a tragedy. And those making the decisions and forming the policies behind this should know that they will have been behind that.