Children do not choose to be in care. Many enter the care system as a result of abuse or neglect. They may have experienced domestic violence, substance misuse, poverty, hunger, the loss of a parent or inadequate parenting. It is no surprise then that children and young people in care are far more likely to have special educational needs, be excluded from school or leave with no qualifications, compared with the general population.
Children in care are one of the lowest performing in education. They also have poorer health outcomes and employment prospects than the general population and a high proportion of care leavers are homeless or in prison.
The gap between the educational achievement of children in care and their peers continues to widen. Last year, 37% of looked after children obtained five GCSEs at grade A* to C, compared with a national figure of 80%. Only 15% of looked after children achieved five GCSEs A* to C including Mathematics and English, compared with 58% nationally. In London only 20.8% of children in care got five GCSEs including English and Maths compared to a national average of 61.3%.
What can be done to improve educational outcomes?
For children and young people to improve their educational outcomes, it is essential to identify the relationship between care experiences and educational progress to enable schools and services to improve the educational outcomes of children and young people in foster care. Although there’s no direct evidence of a link between a foster carer’s own educational background and that of their fostered children, we do know there’s a strong link between the educational outcomes of parent and child.
Research has suggested that a foster carer’s education does have an impact on a foster child’s education. A study in 2005 that focused on care leavers in England who went on to university showed that 33% of their foster carers were also university educated and were now in professional employment.
London Fostering Achievement scheme
In order to help raise the educational aspirations and achievement of children in foster care, London Fostering Achievement scheme wants to train 2,000 foster carers and teaching staff to help foster children “achieve the very best”. Programme manager Lisa Belletty, said “We hope to bring training to foster carers who may not have received training in the past, including examples such as giving training to kinship foster carers, who may not traditionally consider themselves foster carers and therefore gone without any stewardship.”
Family have a big influence
Family can have the biggest influence on our education; after all it is our family that we live, learn and grow with. As Lucy Peake, director of external affairs at the Fostering Network, says “This programme will develop the work foster carers already do and push it to the next level so the children in their care achieve the very best they can at school.”
The training is funded by Mayor Boris Johnson’s London Schools Excellence Fund and will be led by a mixture of foster carers and social workers. It will hopefully tackle the areas that foster carers have highlighted as being a barrier to a child’s education.
“Foster carers have often said to us that they need to have a better understanding of all the roles people and professionals around the child play to help improve their education,” Belletty added.
There have been various papers written and new initiatives developed to try and close the gap in education between children and young people in foster care and the general population. However it is evident that the time has come to accelerate the pace of change, and to make care not only a way out of difficult situations at home, but a bridge to a better childhood and a better future.