For many children, school life can be challenging. But for children in care, school life can be particularly difficult. Their educational experience may have been disrupted due to moving schools, or if they have been absent from school for extended periods of time.
There are various contributing factors towards the amount of progress looked after children make:
• Lack of ambition
• Placement instability
• School exclusion or inadequate school support
• Leaving care and preparing for independence
• Low educational attainments of foster carers
• Failure of corporate parenting
So what can be done to ensure children in care achieve their potential?
Every child needs Children in care need schools and staff that understand them and can effectively support their needs. Schools can be the key to success for a looked after child; they can provide stability, an escape from a turbulent world, an opportunity to excel, a pathway towards a positive future.
As well as a supportive school, foster carers are the key to a child’s success. Foster carers are the key adult for a fostered child, the one who has primary responsibility for helping the child achieve their potential. It is important that foster carers are ambitious and encourage and support their foster child to achieve well; helping with homework, attending parents evenings, arranging extra support where necessary.
What can schools do?
Looked after young people are one of the lowest attaining groups nationally, and the gap between all pupils’ attainment and the attainment of young people in care widens further as pupils move through secondary education.
To close the gap, schools need to identify looked after children and ensure they are supporting their needs. Schools do tend to follow a personalised curriculum, catering for individual needs and tracking progress, but LAC need particular attention. Teachers need to really get to know the child and start by building confidence and self-esteem in order to increase their rate of progress. They need to work closely with foster carers to identify any specific needs and barriers to learning, and implement a range of intervention strategies accordingly. Communication and team work is essential to tackle particular traits and obstacles which limit the young person’s capacity to learn and to share good practice.
A Key Person
It is also a good idea to have a key person in school that each LAC relates well to, for example a teacher or teaching assistant. This person can help to address both social and academic needs, provide mentoring, intervene early when they see the warning ‘signs’, offer ‘time-out’ and a listening ear and maintain close liaison with foster carers.
“I feel I work with the school. We communicate daily when we need to – and that is never a problem. I know what is going on”. (Foster carer)
“Contact between school and home is vital – and not just at crisis points”. (Designated teacher)
Looked after children have often faced trauma, loss or separation and even abuse. The emotional turmoil and chaotic lifestyles can be revealed through challenging behaviours. As a result, looked after children are more likely to be permanently excluded than other pupils and require particular understanding and flexibility and tailored intervention to support their social and emotional development.
Children in care have a large team of people involved in their well-being, who play a key role in their achievements. Coherence and consistency of approach of each of these teams is crucial to ensure that everyone is working collaboratively to secure the best educational outcomes for each individual.
Many looked after young people face considerable challenges in achieving high standards in school – education is fundamentally their pathway to future success.