Childen in care: Shaftesbury’s model for improving education

Shaftesbury Young People and Community Care are hosting a conference on 26 June that will investigate ways of improving educational outcomes for looked-after children. Andy Haines describes Shaftesbury’s recent successes in this area

One of the biggest challenges facing children’s services is the education of looked-after children. Educational failure often lies within the roots of unemployment, homelessness and crime. Shaftesbury Young People has been working on a project funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to raise the educational achievement of children in residential care and we have had some excellent results. Now Shaftesbury is partnering Community Care on a conference bringing practitioners and managers together to look at the work of the project and disseminate the findings.

A snapshot survey of Shaftesbury homes in the late 1990s revealed that only one child out of nearly 50 residents was attending a mainstream school. The others at best had part-time provision at Pupil Referral Units and other projects but at worst no provision at all. Concern for these poor educational opportunities first led to the setting up of an education service in 1999.

According to Care Matters, only 60% of children in care at year 11 or aged 15 achieved at least one GCSE or GNVQ, compared to over 90% of all children, in the year ending 31 March 2005. Fewer than 20% of children in children’s homes achieved one or more GCSEs at grade A-G in the same period.

On-going problems

The problem does not stop there. Out of school, looked-after children are three times more likely to be cautioned or convicted of an offence than other children. Some 27% of adult prisoners have spent time in care.

Lack of qualifications is an obvious barrier to development. At age 19, only 19% of care leavers are in further education and 6% in higher education compared with 38% of all young people. Nearly a third of care leavers are neither in education nor employment (Neet) at age 19. With higher skills and qualifications being required from the workforce, care leavers are at even greater risk of social exclusion.

From April 2005 to March this year, Shaftesbury received project funding from DCSF to develop a model of education for looked-after children, particularly those in residential care with Shaftesbury Young People in south London.

The organisation worked with over 140 young people in years 7 to 11, largely focusing on years 10 and 11 and for a period varying from a few months to two years. Many of these particularly vulnerable young people had experienced multiple placements, and had chequered school histories. Sixty-nine young people for example had a history of fixed term exclusions. Seventeen out of the 41 GCSE candidates came into the project after the start of year 11, following emergency placement in a Shaftesbury home. Most of these young people were not due to take any GCSEs before participating, but the model provided them with intensive support and enabled them to do so.

Different elements

The model comprises different elements which, taken together, provide a holistic range of interventions to facilitate access to school and improve outcomes for young people. The role of what we call an education adviser is integral in holding together these elements and in facilitating good communication between carer, young person, school, social worker and parents.

The model aims to enable children in care to attend mainstream schools, to access the national curriculum and all the benefits of that setting. When this is not possible young people are supported in accessing the national curriculum wherever they are being educated. We believe the model is also applicable to children who live with foster or extended families and for other vulnerable children at risk of exclusion.

Over the three-year project period we reversed the fixed-term exclusion record for 47 of the 69 young people, none of them receiving further exclusions. Out of 41 young people in year 11, 40 were entered for and gained GCSEs. The model enables young people to access GCSEs and through achieving these qualifications, move on to college. All year 11 leavers on the project were helped to apply for and were offered college places. Young people were left with a sense of what it might be possible for them to achieve and a route to help them on their journey.

Andy Haines became acting CEO of Shaftesbury Young People in April, following 17 years as CEO of the Together Trust. He has worked as a teacher, social carer and manager in services for young people since 1974

This article appeared in the 15 May issue under the headline “A new model for schooling looked-after children”

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