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An Ayrshire school where care experienced young people’s views are taken seriously

Tuesday 27 August 2019



Author: Dawn Parker

Dawn Parker is Corporate Parenting Lead at the South Ayrshire CHAMPS Board, and here she, with the help of young people and teachers, talks about a project aiming to ensure care experienced young people at the school feel listened to and included. The project is being delivered in partnership with the South Ayrshire CHAMPS Board and CELCIS.

Article 12 description Belmont graphic.png
 
Belmont Academy has the largest school roll in South Ayrshire – it also has the largest cohort of children in care, surprising considering the demographics and affluent catchment area, many of them placed from outwith this local authority.
 
I met with the Head teacher Tracy Stewart last year to see how we could in a meaningful way bring the care experienced young people together and support and encourage them to discuss their needs and help them to share their views something that was not, up to that point, happening in a meaningful way.
 
The Head Teacher secured funding for a Care Experienced Lead Teacher for the school, and Maggie Kay, a respected teacher at the school and care experienced herself, secured the post. Together we decided to try a Friday lunchtime club for care experienced pupils from all years to come together.
 

The starting point in engaging the young people and getting them along to the lunchtime club was to spread the word and the Lead Teacher set out to identify those in care and care experienced within the school and met individually with every one of the 57 pupils to share with them the plans and how it could work.
 
The Friday lunchtime club has now been meeting since October with the help of care experienced participation assistants from the CHAMPS Board. CHAMPS Boards provide a unique platform for young people to draw on their own experiences to act as expert advisors, highlight the challenges that being in care can bring, and how these challenges can be faced and overcome with the right support.
 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of young people.

A safe space

The care experienced pupils at Belmont Academy come together once a week to have lunch and chat, or take part in activities. From the start it's been their club, they are in the driving seat and discuss and decide what the priorities are, what they do, and how the club is run.

It’s a drop in lunch so not everyone goes every week, and over the nine months it’s been running, more and more pupils are coming along to see what it’s about. It’s now seen it as a safe space, somewhere you can share time with others who ‘get it’ - they can chat about anything they want to share, or what worries them and the participation assistants are there to offer help, guidance, advocate for them, and offer a listening ear.

The young people said they did not want to feel different or singled out, hence the importance of the club running at lunchtime, and a Friday was chosen in case any of the young people had anxieties about the weekend.

One of the priorities identified by the pupils is a space they can ‘own’, somewhere they can go to if they feel they are not coping or just need time away from the busy life of the school. The Head Teacher immediately said yes and identified a room. The room will be ready in August, decorated and furnished the way THEY want, having spent time with a designer choosing colours and furniture, so more beanbags and less plastic chairs!
 

In the know

The club also takes part in activities, again chosen by the pupils. They’ve been bowling, paintballing and as I write, during these summer holidays, they are making a film about what it is like to be in care that will be shown to all pupils in Belmont Academy during assembly next term. This will help give everyone at the school an understanding of what being in care means, and more importantly, we hope, help to destigmatise this. Social stigma and discrimination often stem from lack of understanding, so the care experienced pupils have been bringing non care experienced friends along to the club to ‘see what it’s like!’
 
I’ve delivered awareness-raising sessions to corporate parents across South Ayrshire and I’ve held sessions with staff at Belmont Academy, which will lead to a much more nurturing environment. And, I’ve more sessions planned.
 
So have we been successful? It’s been a great start but there’s still work to do to engage with care experienced pupils, who have chosen not to engage and the school already has plans to do that, and of course, there are care experienced pupils transitioning from primary schools who will be given the opportunity to take part.
 
Do the young people now feel their voices are being heard?
 
You bet!

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

CELCIS's support involvement

CELCIS's Education Team is providing strategic support to South Ayrshire Council with the aim of improving the learning experience and outcomes of care experienced young people in the authority area.

In the first phase of this project three priority areas were identified:

  • Children's rights and participation (- an example being this project at Belmont Academy)
  • Attendance
  • Transitions

Our work includes supporting the local authority to develop a more robust monitoring and evaluation framework to help them measure outcomes and impact.

 

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

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