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The Educational Attainment of Looked After Children - Local Authority Pilot Projects: Final Research Report


5 The Pilot Projects

5.1 Introduction

5.1.1 This chapter provides descriptions of the pilot projects and their aims, and outlines how they progressed. The chapter also highlights successes and difficulties and considers the issue of sustainability. The main data sources for the chapter were the projects' own progress reports to Scottish Government and interviews conducted with project co-ordinators. The data presented in this chapter relate to Research Question 1: What were the characteristics of the pilot projects, including their aims, participants and staffing? Research Question 4: Did the projects meet their objectives? If not, or not entirely, what difficulties were encountered and how were these addressed by the pilot projects' teams? and Research Question 5: What enabling factors of success can be identified?

5.1.2 In October 2004, the Minister for Education and Young People announced funding of £6m to support a programme of pilots across local authorities designed to improve the educational attainment of looked after children.

5.1.3 Pilot projects were subsequently approved for funding in a total of 20 of Scotland's 32 local authorities. The projects were funded by the previous Scottish Executive (now known as The Scottish Government), following an application process where key criteria had to be met in order for a proposal to be accepted. Seven of the projects began in summer 2005 (East Ayrshire, Highland, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and Glasgow) One year later, a further 11 pilot projects began (Aberdeen City, Dundee, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian). A further two pilot projects were subsequently funded by the Scottish Government (Inverclyde and North Lanarkshire), but were not included in the study outlined in this report as they began after the research had been commissioned.

5.2 Characteristics of the pilots

5.2.1 An overview of all the pilot projects is provided in tabular form in Appendix 1. The second column of the table summarises the projects envisaged in the proposals for funding. Fourteen of the 18 pilot projects had more than one strand and these are also detailed in the second column. The third column notes where there were any significant changes to a project, compared with the original proposal. Changes of this order were made in four of the pilots: in three cases a single strand did not progress and in the fourth a strand was significantly modified. Clearly, as these were pilot projects, some aspects of individual projects, or strands may not have progressed entirely as originally planned.

5.2.2 More detailed accounts of each of the 18 pilot projects are provided in Appendix 2. These are based on interviews with project co-ordinators conducted in November 2006 and again in spring 2008, and also on reports provided by projects to Scottish Government officials. The accounts indicate what, in the views of the project co-ordinators, had worked well, as well as aspects which had worked less well. All the projects are due to provide internal evaluation reports to the Scottish Government within six months of the end of the pilot programme. Final evaluation reports for two projects were available to the research team by the time this research report was being completed.

5.2.3 An early analysis of the pilot project aims suggested that they could be characterised by five forms of intervention, as listed below. A table in Appendix 3 shows the distribution of intervention types across the 18 pilot projects.

  • Provision of direct support. Most of the pilots involved elements of direct work with children and young people, such as extra tutoring in school or at home, full-time off-site education, work placements, and activities aimed at developing social skills and educational competence. Many of the projects used funding to employ specialist teachers and/or home-school link workers.
  • Personal education planning. Nine of the projects involved developing or improving the arrangements for conducting educational needs assessments and monitoring progress of individual children and young people.
  • Support for children at transition points in the education system. Nine of the projects involved providing extra support for transitions (i.e. between pre-school provision and primary school, between primary school and secondary school, and between school and further education), known to be particular stressors for looked after children and young people.
  • Developing staff and parent/carer capacity. Thirteen of the projects involved elements of staff training (e.g. using Learning with Care training materials) or particular support for parents/carers (e.g. helping to develop confidence in supporting children in education).
  • Using information technology/computer-based approaches. Four of the projects involved access to computers or made use of specific software packages.

Provision of direct support

5.2.4 Virtually all of the pilots planned some element of direct educational support work with looked after children and young people. Typically this involved provision of additional teaching support for looked after children/young people, notably in maths and English. Some of the pilots had a particular literacy focus, for example, Aberdeen's postal book scheme and East Lothian's 'reading fair', both of which appear to have in their different ways been successful in encouraging interest in reading. South Lanarkshire's pilot also included a significant literacy element, through the 'storytelling' project conducted in collaboration with the voluntary organisation Children 1 st11. Two storytelling trainers worked with link teachers and volunteer literacy co-ordinators in children's houses. The aim was to promote reading among children and young people in residential care. By telling stories in a way that catered to the learning and behavioural needs of the group, the storytellers were able to engage with the young people and promote learning in a way that was informal and fun.

I think the young people have learned they don't need to read a book - because a lot of them do have issues with reading skills - to understand a story. So a lot of the kids that maybe have behavioural difficulties. The thing that I find works with them is going into the unit and to start off the lesson I'll start with a wee story, but I'll tell it like, 'guess what happened to me today?', or I'll start with a book which is quite picture orientated and I'll read. That seems to be enough that it brings them down to a level where they know how the lesson's going to work and they'll let me do some phonics work with them (Link Teacher)

5.2.5 The storytelling was supplemented with related activities: discussions; arts and crafts activities; outings related to literacy; book clubs, for which the young people selected books from the local library; book reviewing, where young people wrote about their thoughts on stories and recommended books to others; magazine subscriptions for the children's houses; newsletters circulated within the houses; and the 'Book a book' campaign, which saw one young person selecting, on behalf of the other children and young people in the unit (after consultation about everyone's interests) new books for the house. Events were also organised for all of the children and young people involved in the programme to come together and share their experiences and celebrate what they had taken part in and learned.

5.2.6 One worker said she would tell stories anytime the young people were bored and that inspiration for the stories came from thinking about the young people's backgrounds. Part of the success of the initiative was that: 'storytelling is really healing, it's really therapeutic …a very warm, caring time to spend with the children'.

5.2.7 Many other examples of interesting approaches to direct support were evident in the pilot projects. Highland's project managers used some of their funding to support nine young people on a Kumon 12 maths and English programme, apparently with very encouraging outcomes.

5.2.8 Some authorities, including Glasgow and Highland, used funding to support payments for tutors to give extra coaching in secondary school subjects. A number of the pilots used funding to support sporting or cultural activities, e.g. Dundee, Highland and Renfrewshire, finding direct benefits to young people in respect of confidence and general wellbeing. Renfrewshire's internal evaluation report 13 includes an account of two focus groups held with young people who had taken part in educational and cultural trips. The young people had enjoyed being involved in the planning of trips, they were able to identify educational and cultural benefits, including increased understanding of school coursework and a general appreciation of different cultures, and they felt that relationships with staff members and with one another had improved as a result of spending time away from the units.

5.2.9 Two projects, Renfrewshire and West Lothian, formed nurture groups targeted at younger looked after children. Renfrewshire provided additional individualised support to pre-school and primary 1 children in order to develop their core skills. School staff involved also benefited from the project, according to the co-ordinator, by having the opportunity to share knowledge and strategies. Project leaders in West Lothian said that the early intervention focus promoted by their nurture groups helped young children to approach school in a more positive way, and enhanced relationships between parents and school staff. North Ayrshire employed workplace mentors to support looked after young people who were undertaking a half-day, weekly work experience placement. Edinburgh used learning assistants to provide direct support in the classroom for individual pupils. Stirling consulted secondary school-aged pupils on what mix of individual/group, and academic/outdoor activities in their school timetables would help them to succeed educationally. They gave the young people additional support after school and during holiday periods.

5.2.10 West Dunbartonshire's project offered direct support to young people approaching Standard Grade examinations by giving additional tutoring in subjects where assistance was needed.

Many of [the young people] were completely disengaged with school, so it was about making going in for exams a reality, through the support, through getting them back in the [school] door. (Project Co-ordinator)

5.2.11 The project workers were able to support the young people to present for their exams, which would not otherwise have been the case for several of them. Some young people were said as a consequence to have achieved better than had been expected. One young person involved in the pilot said that although he had aspirations to do a 5th year in school his behaviour meant that the school had discouraged him from staying on. Involvement in the project, helping him to work on negative behaviours and focus on academic achievement, had allowed him to stay on at school and work towards his plans to become a fire fighter.

Personal education planning

5.2.12 Half of the pilots used at least some of the funding to support the development of personal education planning for looked after children and young people. For example, Fife's Personal Learning Planning ( PLP) process resulted in the production of a resource pack which is authority-specific and aims to help schools understand matters relevant to looked after children and young people, such as interrupted learning and attachment issues. There are plans to make the personal learning packs available in electronic form to increase accessibility, ease of use, and ease with which the plans can be kept up to date. The co-ordinator believes that, evidenced by the co-operation given during the pilot, schools will respond well to this development.

5.2.13 Dumfries and Galloway's project leaders reported that the learning plans resulting from their pilot were successful because they focused on the holistic needs of pupils, taking into consideration that events outside of school can affect learning as much as what happens in school.

5.2.14 North Ayrshire's project was also concerned with personal learning planning in order to help young people become more engaged in their education, more confident and resilient in their learning, and to gain a sense of control over their lives. Young people were helped to consider their goals in life; working towards fulfilling these goals became the main objective of work, with support provided by the project workers.

One of the things that came from young people was that they don't feel that they've got any choices. So they just have these subjects and these teachers, and a lot of the kids were kicking off, were truanting, or were just deliberately trying to get excluded from certain subjects. So we started off with personal learning planning, engaging them, sitting talking about them….based on their circumstances they track out for themselves what they need to do in terms of vocational experience and qualifications, English and maths…(Project Co-ordinator)

5.2.15 South Ayrshire's 'Taking Time to Talk' project also aimed to improve existing personal education plans in use within the authority. The project workers consulted with young people and staff to develop the plan template, and were pleased with the way the young people interacted with the process.

[Creating] the personal education plans: that went very well because the kids appreciated being so heavily involved in it and they've actually come up with what looks like an extremely good PEP, and that will be taken forward… Involving the young people in decision making, taking on their opinions …has had a very big impact on the self-esteem of the young people. (Project Co-ordinator)

Support for children at transition points

5.2.16 A number of the projects focused on the support needs of children at key transition points in education. For example, Renfrewshire's nurture group allowed children to be supported from nursery to primary school. North Ayrshire offered support to young people planning to progress to further education, which meant that they had help in overcoming the stresses of adapting to and settling into college work, and they could access help with practical aspects like structuring essays.

5.2.17 Highland supported P7 children in transition to secondary school by giving them additional academic and social support through the 'Goals 4 Us' project which took place at a local football ground. Through the small group programme provided the children were able to re-engage with education, either through out of school provision or by reintegrating with mainstream education.

5.2.18 Edinburgh's project also supported P7 children as they moved to secondary school. The aim was to make the secondary school experience more like that of a typical primary school, where teachers can often respond more quickly and effectively to the needs of children, because they know more about their home situation. The project focused on building better links between school and homes. The schools involved apparently gained a better understanding of the issues affecting looked after children and young people.

The hope was that we could try to reduce the impact of transition on this group of children and one of the things was to try to replicate a primary-type setting, having one person that they could get to know and having, almost, a nurturing sort of role that somebody was to take on. [The learning assistants] were seen as important people in the children's lives. They were a consistent figure and that bit I think worked very well… (Project Co-ordinator)

Developing staff and parent/carer capacity

5.2.19 Most of the pilots planned to have some element of developing capacity for adults and usually this involved raising awareness generally within the local authority. A number of the projects included staff training as part of their pilot. Dumfries and Galloway held a large multi-agency training event which brought together relevant parties to discuss the needs of looked after children and young people, and was judged to have been very successful by the project leaders.

5.2.20 South Lanarkshire delivered training, based on the Learning with Care materials, for residential staff, designated teachers, foster carers and educational psychologists. Residential staff and teachers responded particularly well to the training. Among positive outcomes reported were an increased level of understanding of what it was like for children to be looked after away from home (reported by teachers), and a greater awareness of the expectations schools have of children (reported by residential staff). Residential staff also felt more confident after the training about contacting schools, and relationships between schools and residential workers were said to have improved. A series of training events was held for designated teachers, based on the Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better report, and a corporate parent conference, aimed at service managers and voluntary services, examined ideas of corporate responsibility and children's champions.

5.2.21 The Midlothian pilot helped residential staff to feel more confident in encouraging children in relation to schooling. Having a teacher as an immediate colleague was very supportive.

Almost inevitably [the children and young people's] education has been set back in one way or another. While we recognise that we were often unable to address the problem, we did ourselves try in a rudimentary sort of way to be educators, but we aren't trained or qualified to do that role, and certainly we couldn't help them prepare for exams and suchlike, other than like any regular parent could do…. Previously we were treated like caring parents but with a view of 'We are the teachers, we know what the score is, you don't really know what the score is'. But with the [teacher employed through the project] she can cut right across that, they understand her and she understands them, nothing is lost in translation. (Residential Worker)

5.2.22 Some of the projects specifically aimed to support parents and carers. East Lothian extended training to parents and carers, providing support on homework and understanding school systems. West Dunbartonshire worked with the families of the young people.

Whatever happens I tell her [the support worker]. I tell her the truth, and I feel I can tell her the truth and she'll no judge me or anything like that…Having someone like [her] keeps me strong…I know at the end of the day when she comes, it aw comes oot, and I feel a hundred percent better. (Parent)

5.2.23 Many more of the projects found that parents and carers had been supported indirectly as a result of the help given to their children. Highland for example used an individualised package approach to support looked after children at home. In one case it was thought that it would be beneficial to the children of a lone father to be given the opportunity to do fun activities together as a family. As a result they engaged better with learning.

Using information technology/computer-based approaches

5.2.24 Four of the pilots were either specifically related to the use of computer-based facilities or had IT elements as part of a wider project. For example, East Ayrshire's entire project was based around the use of Learning Curve, a web-based software package in which young people could make use of a series of mini-lessons covering different areas of the foundation and general levels of Standard Grade maths and English, and could also potentially access online academic support from teachers.

5.2.25 South Lanarkshire and Highland provided computer access within children's units and training for staff on computer hardware and software use. A notable feature of South Lanarkshire's project was the degree of strategic planning and co-ordination, involving an external consultant's audit, collaboration with the local authority's IT Business Team, identifying an IT co-ordinator in each of the children's houses, and conducting a training audit among residential staff.

The co-ordinators meet four or five times a year. They can also communicate via email. The focus of those meetings is to see what we are doing with what we have got, where we are perhaps a bit concerned, and share those concerns, to share more importantly the solutions to some of those concerns and to think about where we could be going and how we actually tap into the potential that is there within the systems that are in the houses…So young people use them [computers] for school work, they will use them for homework, they will use them for research and projects for school. But they are there for communicating with other folk as well - so they will use them for playing games, they'll use them for sending emails. (Children's House Manager)

The young people complained that they could not download music or use MSN Messenger for communicating with friends. Two young people were part of a small group which prepared a report with recommendations for senior managers. The report explored the advantages to the young people of having access to MSN, potential risks, and possible safeguards which could be employed. There have also been discussions with the company managing the system to explore the use of top-up vouchers enabling young people to download music legally.

5.2.26 North Ayrshire used a software package, Comic Life, and animation as an exciting way of developing both self-esteem and language skills. Each young person began by making an initial personal statement about the way they thought the project would benefit them, and what they thought they would gain from taking part. Every three months they returned to the statement to update it, providing the project leaders with a visual assessment of the young people's progress. These personal statements were in the form of storyboards, to which photos of the young people were added to illustrate their thoughts and statements.

5.3 Successes, difficulties and sustainability

5.3.1 The project co-ordinators of 10 of the 18 projects reported in final interviews that the aims of their pilots had been fully achieved. Eight projects reported having partially achieved the aims, typically because one strand of the project was less successful than the others. In four cases (Aberdeen, Glasgow, Midlothian and West Lothian) one strand had not progressed. The operation of Glasgow's project altered substantially from the proposal: instead of the project being managed centrally, the funding was devolved to community health partnerships. Also, information about the project was not collated centrally. West Lothian's third strand (a buddy scheme) did not progress but the project revised the original aims and this strand became an issues forum.

5.3.2 All of the project leaders interviewed variously reported positive outcomes resulting from the interventions, including apparent increases in attendance, reduction in exclusions, re-engagement with education or with mainstream education, as well as improvements in softer measures, such as increased confidence. Analysis of fieldwork interviews indicated that involvement in the pilot activities had made an impact, in many ways, on a large number of looked after children and young people, and on their parents and carers.

5.3.3 Raising awareness about looked after children and their needs, as well as providing training, was an important element in many of the projects and this aspect will have made a significant impact among many professionals in the pilot authorities.

5.3.4 Several projects experienced benefits related to inter-agency work and also working outside traditional professional boundaries. The motivation and passion of individual practitioners was frequently referred to by project leaders as having been crucial to the success of interventions.

5.3.5 One of the projects (Fife) had the specific aim of developing improving data systems and the project co-ordinator reported significant improvements in tracking children within and outwith the authority. This positive outcome is important, since many of the projects had more negative experiences in relation to data management.

5.3.6 Half of the projects had trialled some form of personal education planning, reporting generally encouraging results. Edinburgh experienced resistance in some schools to the proposal that all looked after children should have an additional support plan.

5.3.7 Four of the pilots utilised some form of computer technology, with varying degrees of success. Highland and South Lanarkshire reported gaining significant benefits from having children's units networked and allowing looked after children access to the same packages at home as they used in school. Both authorities experienced difficulties in relation to staff confidence and training. East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire made use of specific software packages and although the projects were quite different in scale, both reported benefits to the young people. East Ayrshire reported particular success in using staff mentors, indicating the importance of the teacher-pupil relationship, even where computer-based learning is used.

5.3.8 The difficulties most often reported by the project leaders related to staffing, the most common being problems in recruiting staff quickly at the start of the project, which in a small number of cases impacted on the extent to which the project's aims were fully achieved. In one case a role identified as being important to the project could not be recruited. In other projects staff left during the project. Sometimes staff recruited did not fit in well or did not possess the skills needed to work with the children and young people.

5.3.9 Six of the pilots expected to become permanent provisions (East Ayrshire, Falkirk, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian), and a further 12 co-ordinators said their authorities either had plans for at least parts of the pilot to be sustained, or for good practice messages to be disseminated within the local authority (Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, Highland, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire).

5.4 Summary

5.4.1 Seven of the 18 projects began in summer 2005 (East Ayrshire, Highland, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and Glasgow). One year later, a further 11 pilot projects began (Aberdeen City, Dundee, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian).

5.4.2 The pilots were very varied in aims and approach but could be characterised by five different types of intervention: direct support, personal education planning, support at transition points, developing adult capacity and the use of computer technology. A brief account of each project is provided in Appendix 2. All of the projects were required to submit an internal evaluation report to Scottish Government.

5.4.3 Ten of the projects reported that their aims had been entirely achieved. Twelve of the projects expected parts of the pilot to be sustained, or for good practice messages to be disseminated within the local authority.