Vulnerable flood into classrooms;News;News and Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
Housing law changes have serious consequences for inner-city schools. Martin Edwards reports.

MANY inner-city schools have been overwhelmed by a rapid increase in the number of vulnerable children they teach, as a result of attempts to house deprived families, according to a new study.

Changes in national housing policy over the past two decades are having a significant impact on schools, claim researchers for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the right to buy council houses and the increased emphasis on local authorities as identifiers of housing need rather than as providers of houses, have helped to create ghettos of poverty.

"This is a general trend affecting many schools across the country," said Alan Millward, who conducted the research with Alan Dyson and Jill Clark. "Put simply, areas of social housing which are characterised by multiple social problems tend also to be served by schools which are themselves subject to multiple problems."

Their work was based on an unnamed primary school in the north of England, which originally served a stable community. Changes in the way landlords could apply for refurbishment money meant some tenants were given properties on the basis of urgent need - often poor families from other parts of the city.

The effects of this influx of children from deprived or broken homes were soon felt. Between 1988 and 1995, the proportion of Year 2 pupils entering the school with below-average reading rose from 14 per cent to 40 per cent. The proportion coming from single-parent backgrounds increased from 6.3 per cent to 14 per cent.

"For the first time they were confronted with children without the necessary skills to make the most benefit of the resources available in the school," said Mr Millward. "It doesn't take thousands, indeed it only took a relatively small change to bring about quite a significant number of difficulties for the school to cope with.

"In areas of social housing the changes that have taken place have the potential to alter the characteristics of those stable communities and make them more unstable," he said.

The school was forced to rethink its relationship with the community and to be more proactive in reaching out to families.

The report recommended that local authorities and housing associations should tell schools how many children are expected in an area and their likely needs.

"The current thinking is that we should try to achieve joined-up solutions to end the endemic problems in our most socially-deprived areas," said Alan Millward.

"But it's staggering to see that there's very little linking between policy-makers in either housing or education at the local or national level."

"Housing and schooling: a case study in joined-up problems" by Jill Clark, Alan Dyson and Alan Millward. Available from York Publishing Services, price pound;13.95. Tel. 01904 430033

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