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Poor housing linked to pupil achievement

EDUCATION and housing departments must work much more closely together to improve pupil performance, a conference was told this week.

Althea Efunshile, director of education in the south London borough of Lewisham, said: "We need joined-up thinking and planning so we can focus on young people and adults and the way they receive our services.

"I think it's absolutely clear that housing does impact on educational attainment and achievement. There needs to be a debate because we are dealing with two sides of the same coin," she told the National Housing Federation London conference.

Lewisham is considering using neighbourhood housing offices as learning centres, and has brought housing officers and youth workers together to help homeless young people and examine the services provided to council tenants.

Education officers are developing a database to track all 33,000 of the borough's pupils, and focusing on schools with high pupil turnover rates, some reaching 30 per cent a year. There is talk of mapping schools to their nearest hostels, and asking housing officers to take pupils' schooling into account when allocating accommodation.

"It would be about making sure education and schooling is incorporated into housing decisions, where possible," said Ms Efunshile.

Three pupils from Swanlea school in Tower Hamlets told the conference how poor housing affects their school work. They highlighted problems with sound proofing, noisy neighbours, damp walls, and the lack of somewhere quiet to do their homework. All three were sharing bedrooms with siblings.

Their headteacher, Linda Austin, said it was not uncommon for her mainly Bangladeshi pupils to share with two or more siblings.

"The motivation of our young people is very high and they want to learn and achieve. But many are trying to learn in incredibly overcrowded conditions. There is an issue of over-crowding in our area which, without being deterministic, is going to have some influence on educational skills. It's really important this is addressed in terms of funding," she said.

"There also needs to be closer communication between housing associations and schools providing things like study support in the evenings. Housing associations could play a key role in ensuring study support clubs are set up.

"We need to work together so any policy decisions made in one area support the aims and objectives of the other area as well."

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