The government wants 75 per cent of the 44,100 young people looked after continuously for over a year to leave education with at least one GCSE or GNVQ. Currently, the figure is 53 per cent, up from 49 per cent three years ago.
In some ways this reflects the belief that for many young people in care conventional classrooms are a turn-off, which suggests a need to be more creative in engaging this group in education. And a partnership between University of Hull and the Kingston-upon-Hull social services and learning services is finding success in doing just that with its HeadFurther scheme.
“The project has three main aims,” says the university’s learning partnerships co-ordinator, Abi Jackson, who is project manager at HeadFurther. “First, to provide a mentoring scheme between students and looked-after young people referred by their social workers. Second, is the hosting of activity days, and third, to produce a handbook to give other institutions a step-by-step guide on how to set up such a project.”
Jackson, who has a youth work background and whose previous role was to co-ordinate the university’s outreach activities aimed at raising aspirations and achievements in schools, sees the project as an opportunity to reach a group of young people who are not necessarily achieving at school, but still have the potential.
Jackson co-ordinates it with a steering group made up of representatives from social services, learning services, and Turnabout, a Barnardo’s project.
Students and young people meet weekly for about half an hour although the time commitment depends on each young person’s wishes. Jackson says:”The student acts as an independent listener should the young person have any issues or concerns. The sessions usually take the form of befriending.” Jackson, along with the young person’s social worker, acts as a supervisor to the students with the social worker being the first port of call should the student have any child protection concerns. The students have a two-day introduction to the project, a day’s training by social services on child protection and a day on drugs awareness. Jackson says that all participating students are police checked and have references followed up.
The students gain valuable experience to include on their CVs and are able to use this time to count towards their social work placements. They can also, if they wish, complete a learning log that will be accredited by the university.
As part of the project, young people are invited to activity days – “fun but with a learning slant” – which include five days at a summer school, three days at Easter, a day in October, and an introductory day in June. “Because the young people are enjoying it so much we are putting on an extra day in August and at Christmas,” adds Jackson. “All days are attended voluntarily by the young people, although students are expected to attend them all. The aim of these events is to revitalise the young people’s motivation and interest in learning. The mentoring sessions that follow will hopefully sustain this engagement in learning, as demonstrated through out the summer school, by the young people.”
The theme for the first summer school was to develop a TV show out of all the activities. The resulting video was premiered last month. “At each event there is an opportunity for the young people to evaluate the event and then plan the next events,” says Jackson. “This year’s summer school ‘graduates’ will be the HeadFurther alumni and will be responsible for putting together next year’s summer school for themselves and the new pupils.”
– For more information e-mail Abi Jackson at A.R.Jackson@hull.ac.uk The guidance handbook for other projects will not be ready until at least Christmas. It will be available from the Hull university website.
Scheme: HeadFurther project
Location: Kingston-upon-Hull, Humberside
Staffing: Project manager (part of the learning partnerships coordinator post)
Inspiration: To reach looked after young people who aren’t necessarily achieving at school, but still have the potential to engage with education
Cost: The project is funded from December 2002 until December 2004 by the University of Hull and the European Social Fund (Objective 3) which has granted £91,000 over two years.