Tuesday 27 September 2016

Teachers seeing dire effect of homelessness in classrooms

Published 29/03/2016 | 02:30

INTO leader Emma Dineen speaks at the conference Photo: Mary Browne
INTO leader Emma Dineen speaks at the conference Photo: Mary Browne
INTO leader Emma Dineen: 'Children struggling with a lack of sleep, space to do homework, and a place to play with friends' Photo: Mary Browne
Karen Foley from Doon, Co Limerick, and Niamh O'Dea from St Paul's Photo: Mary Browne
Fionnghuala O'Regan from Dripsea, Co Cork Photo: Mary Browne
Pat O'Sullivan (left) from Clane, Co Kildare, and Tomás O'Reilly from Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, at the INTO conference in Wexford Photo: Mary Browne

Teachers are growing increasingly concerned at the effects of the rising homelessness crisis on children in their classrooms.

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Significant numbers of pupils are coming to school from emergency accommodation and are showing the physical and psychological impact of having to live in hotel rooms.

The grim reality for many young children was spelled out by Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) President Emma Dineen, at the union's annual conference.

Schoolchildren are struggling with a lack of sleep, a lack of healthy food, no space to do homework or to play and the inability to ask friends to visit.

And all of these were ­negatively impacting on their lives, Ms Dineen warned.

She said schools needed ­better support to provide good food, books and personnel to deal with increasingly complex pupil needs.

Latest figures show that there were 884 families in emergency homeless accommodation in Ireland in January, including 1,830 children.

According to Focus Ireland, the number of families that became newly homeless in January and presented to its services in Dublin alone reached a record monthly total of 125.

The problem is being fuelled by a lack of houses and a growing reliance by families on the private rental market, where costs are increasing to unaffordable levels.

Often when a family becomes homeless they are forced to move out of the area, which adds to the disruption for children and their parents.

In the hope that a displacement is short-term, parents strive to keep their children at the same school but may then face lengthy journeys every day.

This is combined with the constraints of a family often living in a single hotel room surviving on bought-in food.

Teachers reported seeing the strain etched on the faces and in the personalities of children every day.

The INTO president's comments have a particular resonance in the week that Ireland is commemorating the Easter Rising, which had, in part, its roots in social deprivation, including a housing crisis in Dublin.

Ms Dineen's keynote speech drew heavily on the theme of 1916, and said the educational vision of some of its leaders had not been realised.

She said the beliefs of Pádraig Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh had a relevance for schools today. Pearse wanted to see pupils follow their own strengths, interests and abilities in school, while McDonagh believed in a system in which the sensitivity of the child could be nurtured in the classroom, she said.

However, Ms Dineen said such ideals were impossible to realise until large class sizes and teacher workloads were tackled.

"A teacher with 32 pupils in a classroom cannot find time to teach 11 subjects to every child in a child-friendly way and evaluate their progress. At the same time we want teachers to develop their pupils' self-esteem ... we also expect teachers to deal with increasing societal problems."

Speaking at the conference, Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) general secretary Patricia King also referred to the "appalling predicaments of homeless families and the ever-mounting housing crisis".

She said that in the course of their work, teachers were better placed than anyone to predict the effects of life chances on children, who were living in poverty and on the margins of society.

Irish Independent

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