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Lessons in 'what home means'

Life beyond the bastions of stability

Children in the London borough worst hit by homelessness are being taught about the problem in an attempt to prevent them ending up without a roof over their heads.

Pupils at Stockwell Park school in Lambeth are learning about homelessness under a scheme to integrate the facts and figures of life on the streets into the curriculum.

Homelessness charity Centrepoint launched the project last term after finding that twice as many homeless youngsters came from Lambeth as from any other local authority in the capital.

In an effort to stem the rising numbers of young homeless on the streets, Centrepoint's education workers began developing teaching programmes for Year 10 and 11 pupils in conjunction with staff at the school.

"The aim is preventing youth homelessness by educating young people about the realities of homelessness," says the charity's education development worker, Rachel Searle-Mbullu.

The weekly sessions began with a questionnaire to find out the pupils' impressions of homelessness. "Their perceptions were that it is something that is out there - that it is something that happens to other people and not to them."

By using statistics about homelessness in maths classes, studying its history and including relevant aspects of the issue in other lessons, Ms Searle-Mbullu hopes to integrate the subject more fully into the school curriculum.

"It's an experiment in trying to develop a more holistic approach rather than just working through personal and social education, which is often where issues of preparing people for independence are found," she said.

Ms Searle-Mbullu, a former drama teacher, also runs improvised theatre workshops with teenagers at Lambeth's pupil referral unit.

In both cases, she has found that activities emphasising the stability and security of home life can temper restless youngsters' desires to be independent and have a place of their own.

"There is a constant interest in the issues of homelessness but teachers struggle with how to approach it. When you start to look at it from the perspective of 'what home means to me', rather than 'what homelessness means to me', then it has more of an effect."

But perhaps the most convincing deterrent to leaving home when too young is the peer education element of Centrepoint's programme. "When the pupils start hearing about the experiences of these people they realise that young people who become homeless are just as ordinary as them."

* In January, Centrepoint releases an education pack produced in conjunction with the BBC schools' series, Scene, based on the homelessness drama, Stone Cold, to be shown in the new year.

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