‘…teachers, I’ve always looked at them for schoolwork and everything, because they helped me; I’ve always, like, related to them more than carers or anything. Like, carers and social workers have helped me, but teachers have always been there for me, always.’ (YP1)
These are the words of a young person interviewed for the recently published REES Centre report on the educational progress of looked after children in England. The study looked at why young people who are in care have such low educational outcomes. Much of the report tells us what we already know – looked after young people do much worse at school than their peers.
It’s a gloomy forecast for our young people but it doesn’t have to be. Being in care can actually improve and protect outcomes in education in some cases, as the report found. Being in a long-term, stable place is better than short-term or multiple placements This seems like common sense. Surely without a stable, consistent and nurturing place to call home for the long-term everything else in life is harder? So the report shows us that long-term placements are really important, and the evidence also tells us there are other key factors.
What this evidence doesn’t do is help us to see the children behind these numbers.
When I read the study I was struck by the voices of the young people involved. They were asked what they felt helped them to achieve in school and do you know what they said?
People - it’s all about the relationships in their lives, particularly those in their educational lives. They felt that birth parents, carers, residential workers and social workers were all helpful to them, but it’s the staff within school that have the potential to make the biggest impact on them. Many of these vulnerable young people have had their schooling disrupted by chaotic family lives, and many believe they are just not good enough. To have someone see their potential and believe in them is really powerful and they said that classroom teachers, pastoral support staff, link workers and especially one–to-one tutors have that power.
Teachers can provide the most significant educational support for looked after young people, but they need more support to do this effectively. At CELCIS we’ve developed the Looked After and Learning toolkit to help schools, local authorities and teachers make sure they’re in the best place possible to build relationships with their pupils, promote an awareness and understanding of the issues looked after young people can face and implement the most effective strategies that will support their education
I’ve only been at CELCIS a few weeks and although I’ve got a lot of learning to do, one thing I’m absolutely certain of is that I want to help schools and local authorities to use Looked After and Learning. We’re in the early stages of talking to some local authorities and I’m excited about the difference we can make in the coming year. The CELCIS Permanence and Care Excellence Team (PACE) is doing great work to make sure that all our looked after young people have permanent, stable homes as soon as possible, and our work in the education team will go hand-in-hand to improve the educational outcomes for looked after young people.
Together we’ll make sure that young people live in a place that helps them to learn and can learn in a place where they’re understood, valued and listened to.