Poor housing conditions impacting teaching in Lewisham, headteacher claims

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

Teachers are having to take time off school because they’re living in damp and mouldy homes, a headteacher has revealed.

Dean Gordon, who leads two primary schools in Lewisham, said some of his staff were missing work because of serious problems in their properties, including the loss of water and heating.

Mr Gordon, head of the Phoenix Federation, is one of 11 headteachers in the borough to have signed an open letter to the council saying that poor housing was having a ‘detrimental impact’ on the education of kids, and urging it to treat housing in the borough as an ‘emergency issue.’

Following a rally outside the council’s offices in Catford on Friday, he said: “I’ve never seen so many families worried about where they live. The mould, the leaking, the damp conditions, children being ill.

“I even have teachers who take time off because they’ve got no heating. They’ve got no water. There’s damp, there’s mould. It impacts everybody.”

Rally outside Lewisham council’s offices in Catford on Friday (Picture: Robert Firth/LDRS)

Pupils are also suffering the consequences of sub-standard housing, Mr Gordon added. “We have a number of children who are placed in temporary accommodation and that unsettles them because it’s not a very normal place to live,” he said. “They move so far away from home, it takes them longer to get to school.

“They get to school late and those who get there early have to leave at six o’clock in the morning. It’s taking them two hours, a number of buses, [a] train.”

Dr Aaminah Verity, who works as a GP in Deptford, joined teachers, pupils and residents at the demonstration outside the council’s offices. Dr Verity said she was seeing patients at her surgery every day with health problems linked to poor housing.

She said: “We’re seeing people with really severe anxiety and depression often linked to stress about their housing situation, but then also respiratory conditions, so asthma, COPD [pulmonary disease] because of the mould people are living with, skin conditions.

“The temporary accommodation situation is really out of control. We see lots of people unable to come to appointments because they’re getting moved all over the place. It’s very difficult for us to be able to provide care when they’re so far away.”

As of autumn 2023, there were 2,651 families from Lewisham in temporary accommodation and 3,808 children according to figures compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group on households in temporary accommodation.

Pictured top: Dean Gordon, headteacher of two primary schools in Lewisham (Picture: Robert Firth)

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