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

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6 Impact of the Pilots: Qualitative Research

6.1 Introduction and methodology

6.1.1 The content of this chapter is based on the analysis of fieldwork interviews conducted during the summer and autumn terms of 2007. The aim of the fieldwork was to answer Research Question 3: What was the impact of the pilot projects according to the perceptions of the young people and their families, and those of the professionals who worked with them directly?

6.1.2 Although the research plan envisaged sampling the pilots to ensure that there was sufficient coverage of different types of activity across a range of settings, efforts were made to include fieldwork visits within as many of the pilot projects as possible. It was possible in the time available to complete interviews with stakeholders in 15 of the 18 pilot projects. The pilots in Dundee and East Lothian were delayed in starting and therefore were not included in fieldwork. It was also not possible to make arrangements to carry out interviews in Glasgow; this is unfortunate, particularly because of this pilot had the largest number of participants.

6.1.3 Interviews were conducted with a total of 111 professionals engaged directly with the young people (e.g. teachers and school managers, support for learning specialists, classroom assistants, social workers, residential unit staff), 51 young people, and 14 parents or foster carers of those young people. Most of the young people interviewed were adolescents; the youngest though was eight years old. In a small number of cases, interviews planned with young people or parents did not go ahead, either because other commitments intervened or because individuals had subsequently decided not to participate. The table below shows the distribution of fieldwork interviews across the pilot projects. The table also indicates that the stakeholder group least well represented in the fieldwork is that of parent/foster carer.

Table 1: Fieldwork interviews by pilot authority and category of interviewee

Professionals

Parents / Foster Carers

Young People

Aberdeen City

10

-

3

Dumfries & Galloway

6

-

-

East Ayrshire

5

-

2

Edinburgh

7

2

2

Falkirk

7

-

-

Fife

3

2

3

Highland

12

3

10

Midlothian

7

-

5

North Ayrshire

18

2

7

Renfrewshire

2

-

-

South Ayrshire

6

-

6

South Lanarkshire

13

-

3

Stirling

6

1

1

West Dunbartonshire

5

1

1

West Lothian

4

3

8

Total

111

14

51

Fieldwork was not carried out in Dundee, East Lothian and Glasgow

6.1.4 Making the arrangements for the fieldwork visits involved taking advice from project key contacts about which professionals, young people, carers and parents they felt we should and realistically could interview. We also discussed whether individual or focus group interviews would be appropriate, and judgements were usually made taking account of logistical factors (e.g. time available, travel arrangements) and sensitivities (e.g. whether young people would feel more comfortable in a one-to-one or group situation). There was no direct relationship between the number of people interviewed and the size of the actual project, since we were dependent on the practical arrangements that could be made. We tried to conduct interviews or focus groups with all three groups (professionals, parents/carers and young people) in all projects, but in some cases this did not happen (see Table 1). Young people were interviewed on their own or in focus groups; workers were always nearby but could not usually overhear the conversation.

6.1.5 Project contacts were sent information by email, including an outline of the broad interview topics, information sheets for the relevant groups of participants and consent forms. Signed consent forms were collected by researchers on the day of interview, following clarification that the aims of the research were understood by interviewees. Advice was provided by the independent advocacy organisation Who Cares? Scotland, in relation to conducting interviews/focus groups with children and young people.

6.1.6 The interviews and focus groups were structured around four key questions (see below) with variations made, and prompts and probes used for different groups of interviewees, and according to the judgement of the researcher. The content of this chapter is based mostly on the second and third of these questions, while responses to the first question influenced Chapter 4 of this report. The responses to the fourth question have influenced Chapter 7 and also the separately published Guidance for Practitioners.

  • What has the project involved?
  • Has being involved helped the young people with school?
  • What has been good or not so good?
  • Based on the experience of the pilot, what advice might be given to others?

6.1.7 Research interviews were digitally recorded and the files stored within our Virtual Research Environment, a secure, password-protected server. The files were then transcribed and the transcripts subjected to inductive content analysis (Berg, 2004). The inductive analysis began with the identification of segments of interviews that represent single, recognisable aspects of participants' responses. Selected segments were then given a label summarising the central concept conveyed. These labels, or 'specific themes', became the basic unit of analysis. Ideas that reflect common threads across the interviews were then clustered together to form 'intermediate themes'. This clustering allowed a building process to develop whereby a hierarchy of themes could be constructed, starting with very specific themes and moving towards more general themes.

6.1.8 The remainder of this chapter is structured in two main sections: first, the impact of the pilot activities from the perspectives of the professionals interviewed; and, secondly, the impact perceived by the young people and their parents or carers. Within each of the sections sub-headings are used for convenience to organise the discussion. These headings are essentially the general themes derived from the key issues emerging from a content analysis of the interviews.

6.2 Perspectives of the professionals

6.2.1 This section is structured using four headings which represent higher order 'general' themes used to group the 'raw data' themes emerging from the coded interviews. These are: engagement with education; perceptions of impact; what makes it work?; and problems or barriers encountered.

Engagement with education

6.2.2 We learned about the aims of specific pilot projects from reading the proposals written in the applications for funding, and in our interviews with co-ordinators, but we also wanted to explore with the adults who were working directly with the children and young people what they understood to be the various purposes behind the programmes they were engaged in.

6.2.3 Unsurprisingly, the most important theme to emerge from the interviews was a general concern to promote education, while providing support for young people, parent and carers and schools. Developing young people's social and emotional qualities was also prominent. These aspects were concerned with young people's direct engagement with education, in both narrow and broader senses, but another theme to emerge related to a desire to enhance the organisational arrangements for supporting looked after children and young people in their education.

6.2.4 Work in promoting education included a broad range of ways in which pilot project staff offered support primarily within mainstream schools. This work was characterised in various ways, depending on the nature of the project. Examples included: provision of educational opportunities; establishing a culture of learning; assisting young people who were struggling with education; providing personalised programmes; reintegrating young people into mainstream schooling after breaks in their education; and supporting transitions between the different stages of education.

…if you are sitting beside them you are keeping them calm and focused on the task in hand, focused on what the teacher is saying, rather than getting involved in any ruckus or anything that is going on around them. I think your presence there helps them because they know who you are and they are able to relate to you. (Learning Assistant - supporting transition to secondary school)

We've established a kind of culture within the house that homework is a priority. It generally gets done. …Quite often it will get done on the computers and the young folk will type stuff up, then they'll print it off and they'll be able to bring that into school. For some of the older kids that are maybe doing their standard grades, they'll quite readily use the machines to do some research projects. (Residential Unit Manager)

6.2.5 Support work was also directed specifically at strategies leading to improvements in attendance, attainment and achievement. One teacher we interviewed described the aim of a pilot as centring on improving attendance and helping young people to 'stay on task, remain focused'.

We have a boy … just started second year that doesn't have a great deal of experience of being in a big class. He was at a small primary before he came here. To leave him in a class of 27 with no support - that did happen at the beginning of the year - wasn't successful. Now we have got someone with him all the time to keep him on task … that transition of being in classes of six to classes of nearly 30. He is now beginning to realise there are certain things you can do in a big class and certain things you can't do in a big class, so that kind of support has been great. (Principal Teacher, Secondary)

6.2.6 In one project, the support work involved regular meetings in school to examine problems and consider solutions.

…what we do is a lot of person-centred planning with the young people and we've been looking at where you are, where you want to get to, what's your current situation. We've done it with them because nobody's taken the time to really sit down and have that discussion with them. Sometimes it's just going in and saying, 'how has your week gone'. We would meet at least once a week…and [at] an agreed time, so not the same period every week. (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.7 Providing direct support for children and young people was described in a variety of ways, such as being a 'constant in the looked after child's life' or 'someone to rely on' or 'provid[ing] support but not in an obvious way'. Having a presence might be sufficient in some situations, while being an advocate would be required in others, as illustrated in the extracts from interviews below. Giving emotional support and boosting confidence, and helping young people to take responsibility and to develop social and life skills, also featured in interviewees' accounts of their work.

Young people can be lacking in confidence if they have been out of school. They feel there is no hope. They've missed so much in school. They've been through trauma. C is there for support. (Outreach Teacher describing the role of a Support Worker)

…they would often tell me things and ask me to fix things for them that they could easily have gone to their guidance teacher for. I remember a young person saying to me that she couldn't see the blackboard very well and I said, 'well have you asked to be moved to the front of the class?' 'No'. 'Why not?' 'Oh, well I don't like to say.' 'Would you like me to?' 'Yes.' So I did. (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.8 Project staff were also involved in providing emotional or practical support for other adults in the young people's lives, such as their carers, families, teachers and residential unit key workers.

6.2.9 A number of the projects were built around, or included, learning opportunities outside the school classroom. Sometimes these were about maintaining a learning habit when not attending school for various reasons, including exclusion, but projects also made use of work experience placements and a range of sporting and extra-curricular activities.

J had been excluded 10 times throughout his three years of secondary schools. There were more in primary school. It's the same things he was having difficulty with. In the classroom he was fine - it was very manageable because they had supports there for him. But at lunch times and break times he was struggling big time with peer interactions and the lack of structure. We can't really go up there every day. So it was how we could provide support. [name of project] are able to step in and support him. (Residential Worker)

We also produced a magazine for all the units. It was a kid's magazine. We helped them collating information and that was all part of our timetable. (Pupil Support Link Worker)

My role's more activity based…taking individuals and reintroducing them to group work, fishing activities, for instance, and horse riding as well. Also physical activities, in terms of football sessions, provided for people that don't have a lot of physical activity and physical exercise. Just to try and make them a bit more healthy and get them to build relationships to try and obviously keep them involved with the project. (Inclusion Support Worker)

6.2.10 Some of the projects included elements which were intended to improve engagement indirectly by having more efficient data management in relation to looked after children and young people. Thus, for some of our interviewees, their roles involved providing accurate and up to date information about young people, tracking placements and progress in education, exposing inconsistent practices, or examining procedures and recommending changes.

The aim is to have more complete data available for each child. These children aren't just children who are a statistic. Behind these statistics there are names, there are people, there are personalities, there are life stories. (Looked After Children Education Co-ordinator)

Perceptions of impact

6.2.11 In the following chapter we discuss impact as indicated by the quantitative data, and here we report on what emerged from the interviews with professionals. The professionals we spoke to were generally enthusiastic about being engaged in something they regarded as important and worthwhile, but were realistic about what they felt could be achieved in a relatively limited project timescale. In short, they were pessimistic about their efforts and those of the young people showing up in any significant way in the hard attainment data but could articulate other, softer, ways in which they felt their project was making an impact.

6.2.12 Our interviewees described impact in a range of terms, including positive educational outcomes, positive psychological outcomes, development of relationships, raising awareness of the needs of and provision for looked after pupils, and in more organisationally-related ways.

6.2.13 In relation to educational outcomes, the most significant areas of impact described were those related to improvements in attendance and prevention of exclusion, improvements in attitudes towards education, and improvements related to attainment.

6.2.14 According to our interviewees, involvement in the pilot activities had a positive impact on attendance in various ways, including the additional support for the children and young people provided by the projects, the expectation of attendance at school (or specialist provision) and greater motivation as a result of involvement in college or work placements.

…They've also continued to come to the project, so their attendance is, has got to be, valuable…They've got a final vision now that some are going to college to do tasters, or part-time courses. And now they've set themselves some form of career. (Inclusion Support Worker)

There are a lot of young people who really, really want to do well in school. They've got lots of challenges and issues but they really want to be there. Their lives get disrupted. We've had great success but it's different approaches for different people. What's been good I think is identifying the appropriate young people and serving their needs. (Specialist Teacher, Looked After Children)

6.2.15 Prevention of exclusion was, understandably, given the known high rates of exclusion from school of looked after young people, an important feature of many projects involving secondary school-age pupils. The following extract from an interview also highlights the inadequate communication shown to be a feature of the process in many school exclusions involving pupils who are looked after.

…the information was slow in getting round, so a kid could have been excluded for a couple of days before we got to know about it. That's why we set up this system and I think it's a positive system whereby we were working different hours. P and myself were working twelve o' clock till seven o'clock in the evening, whereas V and M were working 9 to 4. The routine we set up was that every morning V and M would phone the units and say, 'what's the state of play, anyone excluded?...If someone had been excluded the day before, the next day we could be in the unit…Because of the difficulties in getting information from schools, we had made up materials for different ages and stages, so that we could very quickly put together basic language and numeracy materials, as well as some wee attractive bits, so that we could be prepared. (Teacher seconded to project)

6.2.16 The difficulty of making a measurable impact with young people whose education has been severely disrupted over many years was described by a teacher working in a specialist base, supporting looked after children in mainstream schools, or as a first step in a staged return to schooling.

There are young people who haven't been in school for up to a year, so it's hard to tell. We can probably say that two or three young people would have been excluded, wouldn't have gone back and wouldn't have sat their Standard Grades without the support of the project. Certainly there is a heightened awareness of education in the Centre as a whole. There is more support for the young people. At the end of two years we hopefully should see attendance up, exclusion down and attainment improving. It is a small number, though, 12 in total. It will be hard to draw conclusions. (Special Project Principal Teacher)

6.2.17 Impact on education was also evidenced through increase in motivation and improved attitudes towards schooling. Our interviewees described the changes they observed in various ways, such as 'buying into education', increased enthusiasm for education, enjoying school work and having better focus or vision. In one project which was centred on the primary school - secondary school transition period, a point where many looked after children experience drift due to the unfamiliarity of the school environment, we were given a case example of good support.

…That girl was the only pupil from that school to come here. They sent a member of staff for the induction - which I thought was fantastic - who sat down with me, told me what buttons to press, how the girl responds to praise. Absolutely brilliant! She has been another one who has benefited hugely from the looked after project because I think again she needs a lot of support, she has a fairly difficult home life, has someone in the classroom who is sitting in with her. She is a fairly bright girl. She is coping fairly well right now. I doubt whether she would have made the transition as effectively without the support she has received. (Principal Teacher, Secondary School)

6.2.18 Interviewees also described ways in which they felt the attainment of the young people had been influenced positively, including being presented for Standard Grades and other assessments, showing improvements in school work and achieving awards. As the interview extracts below demonstrate, several of the professionals to whom we spoke made the point that skilled teachers can help young people to make significant advances in a relatively short period.

At the point where we picked them up, because of their portfolio work, these kids weren't even going to get presented because the work hadn't been done. Very quickly we got them to the point where presentation was possible. (Education Project Co-ordinator)

One young person who was bottom of her maths class is now top. Another moved from Access 3 maths to general Standard Grade in nine months. Another who was in a foundation English class received a '2' for her 3rd year work. One young person who had nothing in the English folio now has three or four pieces, which is a miracle for him, and he's excited about that and behaving in class because he's succeeding academically. (Teacher, Co-ordinator of Support Team)

6.2.19 In one project which had a strong emphasis on educational attainment, the importance of developing a range of useful life skills was also recognised. The specialist support teachers were invited by one of their pupils to eat a meal she had prepared in the children's unit where she lived.

One young person cooked dinner for our team last week, as she is now being taught life skills. Set the table, made dinner. Unit staff supported her. She was as proud as punch to hold her first dinner party. Her life has been turned around. (Specialist Support Teacher)

6.2.20 Across the projects we visited, we heard accounts of a whole range of ways in which looked after children and young people had developed psychologically, directly as a result of engaging with the project activities. Among the most frequently mentioned changes were increase in confidence, increased self-esteem, feeling valued, having a sense of pride in achievements, improved social skills, increased focus and drive, and improved behaviour. Unsurprisingly, development in confidence was often related to extra-curricular opportunities created by schools. We heard of one young person who became involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme through his school. This included voluntary experience working with fire-fighters one night per week for 10 weeks. He was filmed in uniform as part of a television news item and this experience had apparently contributed enormously to the young person's developing confidence. In another project, a young person with very low self-esteem began to see himself more positively as a result of participating in a film animation project.

When he first started and went to outdoor education [worker] would take a camera; he didn't want his photo taken, he was really opposed to that. Then [animation project] came along and he decided that his film would be of him doing a trick shot at pool, and he was quite happy to be on film for that. Now if you are out and about with him and taking photos, he's quite happy. So I do think that demonstrates that his feelings about himself have changed. (Service Manager)

6.2.21 Improvements in behaviour were among the most frequently described benefits of engaging with projects. A learning assistant talked about the very close support he provided for a secondary school pupil looked after at home who was attending erratically and whose behaviour in school was giving concern. The main focus had been on improving social skills, and addressing his difficulties in school work had become a longer-term goal.

…having my constant presence he is now used to me…and he is a lot more accepting of it and in terms of his behaviour which was a major issue at the beginning - that has certainly got better. Often if I am not in class with him we have problems still but if I am there his discipline is markedly better, so that I would say measurably has gone up. (Learning Assistant)

6.2.22 The complexity of these psychological challenges is dramatically illustrated in the following case example, which also shows how young people can respond positively to intensive support. The example also illustrates how specialist support professionals need to be skilled in working with colleagues as well as with young people.

One girl had just finished S4. School had broken down, she wasn't attending. Her behaviour was so bad she'd been excluded. Things were in a bad way. Very surly in school, very insolent to teachers, always in fights and arguments. All very negative. She was taken into care. Whenever a young person is taken into care here they get my services the next day. We talk through what they like and their strengths and how I could help them. We got her back to school and I went in three times a week with her. We went to the support base and into classes. The withdrawal is also important, that I'm not always with her. When it comes to exams, we did revision together. She sat her Standard Grades. A lot of work was done with the staff here about appropriate behaviour. Also work with me modelling in school, like saying, 'Excuse me Mr X', because she just used to shout at teachers' backs. The guidance staff noticed her social skills were developing. (Special Project Principal Teacher)

6.2.23 The need for project staff to be able to use skills in diplomacy to advocate on behalf of young people with a history of poor behaviour in school emerged as an important theme. We heard in one of the pilot projects about a girl who was being supported in mainstream school after a history of poor attendance, exclusion and poor behaviour. Despite improved behaviour and gaining merit awards in some subjects, three subject teachers said they did not want her to attend their classes. The support teacher had to work hard to emphasise the positive comments from staff without dismissing reports of continuing behaviour problems.

6.2.24 Another important way in which project staff described positive impact related to improvements evident in interpersonal relationships, typically between young people and significant adults.

Sometimes when people come into schools and they are not having a lot to do with the kids, sort of floating in two periods a week, it's difficult for them to build up a relationship. There is a tendency sometimes to feel sorry for those kids rather than to empathise with them. I don't think that has happened. I think that they have really been able to empathise with this boy and really try to help him. I have been particularly impressed with the fact that they have been willing to try to engage with the mother. I'm not saying it's always been successful. (Depute Head Teacher, Secondary School)

6.2.25 An important feature of the pilot projects involved specialist provision for looked after children and young people, aimed at reintegration to mainstream education, providing structured learning environments, giving interesting or fun opportunities beyond school or work experience placements. The range of provisions was large and varied due to the very different nature of the pilot projects.

[Young person] had mentioned that she would like experience working in child care and W was able to search for a suitable place following some assessment. She was able to sustain the placement. She wasn't able to sustain school. Attendance was very variable. Over the summer holidays the nursery asked her to come back on a voluntary basis, which she agreed to. There have been a lot of changes in her care plan, sometimes very complicated but the girl has managed to maintain and W has continued to engage and the placement continues one year on. (Social Worker)

6.2.26 As well as impacting directly with the young people, many of the professionals to whom we spoke explained that a significant part of their work involved raising awareness of the needs of looked after children and young people, particularly within schools. Our interviewees spoke about providing basic information, raising awareness about the project and explaining their specialist roles. More specific examples of impact in this area included: helping to improve data transfer between education and social work; developing standardised procedures for informing schools when a pupil becomes looked after; provision of accurate and more detailed information about a pupil to aid with the planning process; keeping personal education plans up to date. We also heard of situations where increased awareness led school staff to have a better understanding of the circumstances of pupils who were looked after and as a consequence to 'go the extra mile' on their behalf.

The majority of staff within the secondary schools are doing their absolute best. Sometimes staff have been persuaded by team members not to exclude. Sometimes teachers don't have the insight into young people's lives. Guidance do but rarely share more than they have to… approaching a teacher and discussing home circumstances may help. (Specialist Support Teacher)

6.2.27 Raising awareness with parents, about school generally, about the value of education, and about opportunities offered directly by a project, or more widely, also featured in professionals' accounts of their work. Sometimes what had begun as a simple task of communication or liaison appeared to have resulted in achieving a deeper effect, and we learned about examples of projects 'easing the pressure' on families, parents feeling reassured by contact and even of parents seeking personal support from project staff or being referred for additional help via a project.

6.2.28 Although we have concentrated in this section on positive experiences that staff of projects shared with us, it is important to report that many interviews also featured comments about the difficulties in assessing impact. The practitioners we spoke to were typically working directly with one pupil, or a small number of pupils, and although they were aware of being part of a bigger project they did not always have a clear overview. In some cases, the project had been operational for a relatively short time, while in others we detected pessimism that successes gained would be maintained after the project ended, perhaps because the initial enthusiasm had dissipated or because key staff seconded to the project had returned to their substantive posts.

What makes it work?

6.2.29 During the interviews with professionals, we asked about the kinds of things that helped to achieve the aims of the pilot project, or allowed them to be successful in their part of the project. Despite the many real difficulties encountered, which we describe in the next section of this chapter, we were impressed by the great number of examples of positive experiences provided by the interviewees. The most important themes to emerge were those relating to effective strategies in working with children and young people, effective communication and partnership working, and the qualities and skills of staff.

6.2.30 A range of effective strategies was described by staff working in the pilots, including those related to flexibility and individualisation in approach - 'keeping the young person at the centre' - and the provision of a breadth of learning experiences.

6.2.31 Individualising the intervention approach was described in various ways, including tailoring education to meet individual needs, providing education without ignoring what else is happening in the life of a looked after child or young person, devising specific strategies to deal with attendance or exclusion issues, and making education relevant and meaningful.

For me, it's about engaging young people with education. We work with young people who are disengaged from education [for example] one young man in particular who had struggled to engage in any secondary education at all and who had been through various secondary schools and various support services, private education schools outwith the authority, and managed his last year here. That was an amazing achievement for this young man. (Social Worker)

The structure of the project allows continuity of experience in that it doesn't divorce education from the outside world. For a lot of young people, education is something that is done to them between the hours of nine o' clock and half past three. These young people have so much in their lives. (Depute Head Teacher - Secondary)

6.2.32 Being flexible can mean allowing a young person to choose the focus for learning, making use of unstructured learning opportunities, and varying the approach to take account of an individual's circumstances.

My role was to make sure that the pupil was in classes and giving that support in school. The pupil was really toiling with folio deadlines for standard grades. … J worked with her in the learning room, and then in school I was taking her out of classes and [she was] writing essay after essay to get the folios done. Being in classes and being taught was just not working. She wouldn't come to school on the deadlines to avoid them. I helped her with study and to come up with a study planner. There were a few times when she opted out and she would come down to chat to me. Sometimes she worked in my office because she didn't want to be in class. It was about flexibility. (Principal Teacher of Guidance - Secondary)

6.2.33 The pilot projects were very different, with different emphases and targeted at different age groups, or a range of age groups. So the learning experiences offered were quite project-specific. Nevertheless, there was a general theme across the pilots about the importance of having a variety of learning experiences, in a range of settings, helping to make education appear meaningful, relevant and fun, particularly because the young people were often seriously disaffected through their previous bad experiences of school. This could mean teaching about life and vocational skills, providing work placement opportunities, ensuring that learning emphasised achievement and not just attainment, and making use of outdoor education and other sporting or cultural experiences.

[The children's unit] were planning an educational visit…so the children downloaded maps of where they were going and for each place they were going they downloaded bits of information and had a wee guide book… It was using literacy in that real way, to find out information, but also creatively, because they were cutting and pasting and making a book… It wasn't: 'we're doing reading now.' It was doing an activity that [the children] are interested in, that functionally involves getting meaning from text, rather than a formal: 'this is reading'. (Educational Psychologist)

6.2.34 Making it work also involved communicating effectively with different groups of stakeholders: with the young people, with schools, with parents. Our interviewees also spoke about being the link between individuals or groups, using terms like 'mediator', 'buffer', 'bridge', 'key liaison'. Sometimes communication involved helping different agency partners gain a better understanding of each other's role, explaining professional practices or decoding jargon, developing good working relationships, setting up channels of communication or repairing those that had foundered.

…the success would have to be to have raised awareness about the issues of looked after children in the six secondary schools…and I have had feedback from a variety of staff members, including head teachers, to say that…simply by having somebody coming in and asking, you know, to work with the looked after children has had the overall effect and I think that is a positive thing. (Pilot Project Co-ordinator)

6.2.35 Many professionals we interviewed spoke about the importance of developing a repertoire of skills in communicating with children and young people. Having regular discussions with young people, listening to what they have to say, consulting with them, being encouraging and supportive, and offering advocacy were all aspects of communication which emerged in the interviews. Developing expertise in working with parents and carers was an important aspect of the role for some of our interviewees.

The team has direct links with parents or carers of the young people. Regular contact. Phone parents and can also go to homes. No young person would be involved in the project without parental or carer consent. Also they are invited, and always come, to support group meetings. The team are friendly faces. There isn't the same association as a school guidance or social worker. (Specialist Teacher)

6.2.36 An outcome of effective communication is good partnership working, which, unsurprisingly, was highlighted by many interviewees as being a key element in making their project successful. A number of the pilots indeed had strands which were about improving relationships between agencies, developing protocols for joint working and information sharing, and collaborative working.

6.2.37 Professional expertise and credibility was acknowledged to be important. For example, a member of staff with a teaching background might be more readily accepted by teachers in the schools with which a project was in collaboration. However, the qualities most commonly highlighted as important were more personal in nature, such as being sensitive to the circumstances of looked after children and their families, being able to develop good relationships with young people who could be challenging, and providing positive role models. It could be an advantage for a project to be seen as separate from mainstream school or social work provision, and somehow not being regarded as 'authority figures'. In this interview extract a residential worker indicates that the qualities of the teacher were central to its success.

The principal teacher is a very clear thinking individual. She knows exactly what she wants to do, but she also has the rare ability to be able to get on with the young people and communicate with them in a way that someone wouldn't necessarily have time to do in a mainstream school class setting. I would say without a shadow of a doubt, even at this early stage, that we are seeing quite remarkable results. Youngsters who have profound difficulties attending regular schooling have been able to gain some education… (Assistant Manager, Residential Unit)

Problems or barriers encountered

6.2.38 Our interviewees also provided us with insights into a whole range of problems and barriers which they faced in making provisions for looked after children and young people, and in the operation of the pilot projects. These are grouped according to the following themes: those related to attendance and exclusion; those concerned with attitude to learning; organisational issues; standardised procedures; collaborative working; training; staff dissatisfaction with role or job clarity; sustainability and the limitations of resources.

6.2.39 One key aspect for many of the projects was that of the young people's ability or willingness to attend school or the project. Often, actually achieving that could be seen as a real bonus. Great efforts were made by project workers to encourage and physically achieve attendance.

At the beginning, when I started with him, I had to go and knock at the door and wake him up and he wasn't prepared to come. But after the first month I was giving him a lift, and now by the end of the project, he's coming himself and he can't wait to get out of the house and come and attend the project. (Project Worker)

6.2.40 In another project, the presence of a learning assistant as a 'constant' did make a difference to one young person who had a poor attendance rate.

…seems like he has good times with attendance and poor times; so that fluctuates and that makes it hard to have consistency. But I would say, on the whole, that I think having my constant presence he is now used to me…and he is a lot more accepting of it. (Learning Assistant)

6.2.41 In the same project, it was the persistence of the Education Welfare Officer ( EWO) with individual pupils that had an impact on attendance. The time spent by the EWO was fairly intensive: collecting children each morning to take them to school; setting targets and rewards as a means of encouraging more independence; repeatedly calling at the house until there was a response. In one project, attendance was seen as a bonus and a 'double bonus if they actually do any work.'

6.2.42 Exclusion from mainstream school was a feature of the profile of many young people. For project workers, it was a frustration as it was felt that schools had so much to offer.

Some schools can do so much for them. R's school has done so much for R and he needs to get back to school. But some schools want to exclude them at the drop of a hat, for doing something small. Or they are coming home with a warning letter for something that we would see as minimal. (Residential Unit Worker)

6.2.43 Many of the young people found it difficult focusing on learning and a number of the pilot projects provided alternative activities which were deemed successful. For example, outdoor education, fishing and football were seen as motivating, activities that they were not 'pressured in'. However, where there were learning opportunities for core subjects such as mathematics or English, there was more resistance.

You offer the pupils these wonderful things which they are getting, and they will engage in them because they are motivated, they want to do them…But most of them, or the ones I have been involved with, have huge learning difficulties with the core subjects…but the reality is they are not going to progress in life if they do not achieve them…In maths he has huge psychological hang-ups. So what I feel is happening is that they are choosing to come and do the lovely things, the things they really enjoy doing. (Project Teacher)

6.2.44 However, it was not all negative. The support received resulted in one young person gradually gaining confidence in his ability to understand mathematics.

Before, he would never have done that stuff on the board…he said to me one day 'I know there is a pattern in the nine times table'. So I said to him yesterday 'Well, go and write it up for us, and you tell us'. So he did, but that's just chipping away, and we will get there, but it does take time. (Project Worker)

6.2.45 Problematic issues relating to the more organisational aspects of pilot projects also emerged as an important theme. Some projects experienced delays in starting up. These delays related to, in the main, the appointment of key project staff. One local authority had a delay of several months before the project co-ordinator was released from her school resulting in subsequent appointments to the project also being delayed.

…the major obstacle that we faced was time, because by the time I came into post in December, we had quite significant delays of actually getting people started. So we effectively lost the first term of the target group. We didn't actually have the learning assistants in post and in schools until late February, early March… (Project Co-ordinator)

6.2.46 In another pilot, the project team had been unsuccessful in recruiting an educational psychologist and 'had to use current psych (sic) staffing within the authority'. One pilot project staff member in another authority commented on the 'slow intake of pupils' due to the referral system put in place for the project. An interesting observation from a staff member related to recruitment of looked after young people and the perceived limitations placed upon the project.

I know it is about looked after children, so that's fine. But we're finding a big issue with finding, not young people who would benefit from the project; we've plenty of them, but [young people] who actually fulfil the criteria in terms of the looked after children. (Depute Head Teacher)

6.2.47 Problems of recruitment to the projects were described by a number of our interviewees. A project worker talked about 'fighting and having to ask for children…they should be coming flowing in to us.' He felt that the advertising (about the project) was inadequate and that little background information had been provided about the young people, whom he described as 'conscripts' rather than volunteers. His advice for future recruitment to similar projects reflected his frustration.

So, I think if you were going to 'grease the wheels', you would do that by publicising it to educational establishments. Tell the social worker exactly what we're looking for…Publicise that well and have a formal referral system to here. What we have been doing is the exact opposite. We've been phoning head teachers and saying: 'I see you've got a child. Do you think they would fit the project?'

6.2.48 Other delays were often of a more practical, but no less important, nature such as the identification of an individual who would 'sign off' expenses.

We had terrible trouble at the outset deciding who was signing for our badges to be changed, because we needed someone to take responsibility and nobody would do that. Who was going to sign our travel expenses claim forms because someone had to sign it? Nobody for the first two months, although we were running around like blue tailed flies, we didn't get any travel expenses because nobody would sign for them. (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.49 An example of a delay experienced in one project, which appeared to have a negative impact on continued participation, related to the use of a laptop computer for web-based lessons. Although the support from mentors was considered a great success, problems with logging on to the system meant young people were frustrated at times.

One of the girls was making the effort to travel over from college but when she got here, she couldn't get online using the laptop, so she got fed up of that. … I can't get online to do that. I've been in touch [with IT] a few times to check that I'm doing everything right. Or, if you get logged on, nothing happens on the site. (Teacher)

6.2.50 Changes in data management systems used by local authorities to record details about the young people appeared to cause difficulties in some of the pilot projects. In one pilot, the education staff had to receive training before they could use the social work system and this delayed their access to information. In another pilot, social work and education were using different systems which resulted in inaccuracies.

The data within the education system…is not accurate or up to date. The data within the social work system is not accurate or up to date and it needs manual intervention to pull out that data and cross-check it. (Data Management Officer)

6.2.51 An important theme emerging from a number of the projects related to poor communication. This could result from a lack of understanding about the project's role. One project member recalled initial reticence from schools, indicating this was something that could have been avoided.

Well…it was very much a case of prove yourself. It was, justify your position. You find yourself doing that constantly and prove that you are any kind of value to us and then if we think you're of any value…and then word would get around to once you had worked with one guidance teacher… (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.52 In another project, two learning assistants shared their experiences of engaging with schools during the project.

…I think the reception to the project from the high school was very difficult which made trying to get things sorted, organised…it was really hard to get something done about it because they all have their hierarchies and people don't like their territories stepped on and that kind of thing and that is something that would need to be tackled. (Learning Assistant 1)

Well, I have gone along to primary schools and they have wondered why I was there and I have had to explain it all to them and I have been turned away a couple of times. As it so happens, I have been told there is photocopying to be done. Sorry, I'm not there to be a photocopier. (Learning Assistant 2)

6.2.53 At times, it seemed as if pilot project workers had to fight to make their role clear to other professionals.

We would need more support from education and social work, and for them to be fully aware of what our roles are. We've battled from day one, really, until today to explain what we're doing, and people just don't know. It needs to be well advertised, it's been a big, big problem. Then people not wanting to speak to us, not realising that we have confidentiality too, we deal in the same manner. (Children's Service Worker)

I am still learning as I go about the whole looked after project thing. It wasn't pitched brilliantly through no fault of our principal teacher of support for learning and I think maybe our management team could have allocated more time to it. Were they made aware of its importance by city or the Executive? (Principal Teacher).

6.2.54 Another example of the need to be explicit in relation to roles was described by a work placement supervisor in one of the pilots who described the lack of clarity about boundaries regarding information sharing as something that caused uncertainty. The supervisor would have liked to have had more information about the young people's background. There was no 'written rule' about sharing information and the supervisor, while valuing the information passed on by the school, felt that it would have been helpful to have more detail.

6.2.55 Also related to lack of understanding was the stereotypical view that some professionals had about looked after children and young people. This point was illustrated by one teacher describing a scenario arising from discussions about using the 'need to know' approach to providing information about pupils who are looked after.

[Senior manager] tells staff about looked after status on a need to know basis. There is a tendency to tag children; the looked after child is nervous about being tagged and while some teachers can be sympathetic, a looked after child is not looking for sympathy. (Principal Teacher)

6.2.56 Communication of information about looked after children and young people in general was an issue, as described by a teacher seconded to a pilot project team, who felt that training should have come at an earlier stage.

I think that one of the things we would have done differently would have been to have the Learning with Care training early on and more widely available…I think it really impacted on teaching staff that were there. Knowing about the realities of the unit and what a kid was coping with by being in looked after care. (Teacher)

6.2.57 Poor communication between the various partners or agencies was cited by several of our interviewees. For example, in one pilot, there was frustration about the project apparently falling between education and social work, without clear lines of accountability, and as a consequence not receiving information at the appropriate time to support the young people in the project. In another pilot, a staff member recalled her experiences and talked about the need for better communication between services.

…an awful lot of the difficulties I'm encountering are caused by break-down in communication and by one service not really thinking that the other service needs to know; and it's that whole who needs to know business, you know, what do you tell people, how do you tell them and they become quite possessive of their knowledge. (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.58 One project worker spoke about the need for a two-way 'network of communication' once a young person was allocated to the project.

Once we get involved, there is a network of communication out from us, but not back in to us. We took that role and we knew we were taking that social-education role and we knew we had to work well between the two of them, but nobody else was doing it. That becomes exhausting after a while. … Communication has been pretty bad. We've been pushing it but it's been bad. That's a big issue that needs to be dealt with, and before the project starts again (if it does). There is very little respect for this project. (Children's Services Worker)

6.2.59 Project staff often appeared to be relying on co-operation from schools and at times this was problematic. One staff member recalled the disappointment she experienced.

…being an outside agency, if you like, to a school, you are very dependent on the school cooperating with you and inviting you to meetings, keeping you posted actually, and I was disappointed a couple of times…it's a kind of communication problem… (Project Co-ordinator)

6.2.60 In one project, they referred to 'chasing schools for things like getting copies of IEPs (Individualised Educational Programmes) for kids because that's one of the things that they're supposed to have in place.' A project worker referred to the problem of resources and the suggestion that, for one school, looked after children were 'an after-thought'. This view was reinforced when the project received text books with torn pages from the secondary school.

6.2.61 In another project, the difficulty of attendance at crucial meetings was raised. When planning meetings were called at short notice it was often difficult for school staff to attend 'at the drop of a hat'. The school holidays could also present problems in communicating decisions to schools.

…and what I'm finding, like over the holidays, if young people come into the team over the school holidays, …social work will have the meeting and make lots of arrangements, but don't pass it on to the education… (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.62 A lack of clarity about roles and, at times, about projects was identified, for example, leading to confusion between social workers and schools over where responsibilities lay in relation to learning plans and care plans. In one project, there was surprise at the apparent lack of direction in the project at the start.

…but it was this thing about nobody actually seeming to be terribly bothered. There was a distinct lack of support at that point. … I think both of us expected things to be more established at the outset. You know, a clearer kind of job specification, if you like. Not this kind of: you do whatever it takes and make it up as you go along. (Educational Link Worker)

6.2.63 Many of our interviewees worried about whether work they had begun as part of a pilot would realistically be sustained after the end of the project. This was particularly the case where staff secondments had been used and workers had left the project to return to substantive posts. There was also disappointment that skills and knowledge developed during the life of the projects were not going to be fully utilised after.

I mean, if you're trying to, you know, create some kind of stability and, oh, March 2008, bye. …it's a shame because I feel I've built up a huge bank of expertise and I feel I have a lot of knowledge. I feel I have a lot of information that probably not a lot of people have, because nobody's been in all these schools, nobody's going here, there and everywhere, and nobody's got such a knowledge of all the systems. (Learning Support Teacher)

Why is it when something good happens, they always take it away? (Teacher)

6.3 Perspectives of the young people and their parents or carers

6.3.1 This section of the chapter is based on the analysis of interviews with 51 young people and 14 parents or foster carers of those young people. Interviews with the young people were conducted either individually or in small groups, as judged appropriate in the arrangements made by pilot project co-ordinators. Interviews were usually conducted informally, in a classroom, meeting room or children's unit sitting room. Mostly they were conducted in question and answer style or by discussion. Interviewers had prompt cards for use in stimulating discussion, if required. A number of interviews were conducted in a very informal way: in one case while playing a game of pool with a young person; in another while playing a computer game. Interviews with parents/carers were generally conducted individually in straight question and answer style.

Perspectives of the young people

6.3.2 We have not continued the practice of giving details of the interviewee in brackets following quotations in this section as an additional safeguard for protecting confidentiality.

6.3.3 This section is structured around three headings which were used to group the data that emerged from the interviews. These are: perceptions of impact; difficulties encountered; and recommendations for future projects.

Perceptions of impact

6.3.4 In relation to the impact of the pilot projects, two positive aspects emerged strongly from the interviews with young people. These were: firstly, the positive way in which they viewed themselves, their relationships and their enhanced social skills; and, secondly, their perceptions of improved educational outcomes, attitude to learning and achievement.

6.3.5 Some young people spoke about having gained increased self-awareness, confidence and pride. For example, one talked about being able to recognise that she did not need support in school work but did need help with her behaviour. Another commented about how his self esteem was 'way down'. He acknowledged the assessment of his friend, interviewed at the same time, who said: 'Well, you put yourself down all the time.' Another young person indicated that the way he was treated had an impact on him.

…the way that they talk to you, it gives you more confidence to speak to people and that. To speak up, say what you think…I mean, that's changed a lot of me because I was quite shy before but now I came here, I say what I think. I can talk to people I meet and that.

6.3.6 One young person, when asked whether involvement in the project had helped her enjoy school more, commented:

I'm quite thankful because if I wasn't at school, I'd be a low-life, uneducated delinquent and wouldn't be able to get a proper job….If I want something, I take it seriously and I won't stop until I get it. I'm thinking about university or law school.

6.3.7 Confidence was not always related to achieving in the educational sense.

I've got confidence on my own. I had to have confidence today because I had to ask out this girl I fancied. My mates said 'Ask her out', so I did. I went up in the middle of school and asked her, which was pretty scary but I had to do that. I got a 'yes'.

6.3.8 Many of the young people we interviewed were clear that the experiences of the project had enhanced their personal and interpersonal skills. Some of this change was reflected in improved relationships with teachers at school and with other adults. One young person stated that she got on better: '…with more of the adults - the teachers. People that want to help'. Another, a member of the same project, felt that he had better relationships with the family 'through making more effort at school.' Another talked about how his perspective on people with disabilities had changed as a result of his role in the project.

I never had the confidence to approach people, people like that, 'cause I'm not, I've not known any disabled. I wouldn't have known how to speak to them. But since I have been [working in the project with disabled young people] and I've been in their company, I've understood that I know they can be normal. They are normal people.

6.3.9 Several young people interviewed said they felt they had achieved and improved academically. The project workers were seen as supportive and encouraging: 'The project staff are more laid back; they encourage, for example, tell you how it will help your future.' One girl proudly announced that she had 'actually got work in my English folio now'. Another girl, in the same project, moved from the bottom section to the top section in maths. She commented: 'You can go from the bottom of the class to the top of it, just with extra practice.' One young person, who had one to one support in class, spoke proudly of how she was then able to work just as hard in class without that support.

Yeah, because I had history today and English today and science today, and I worked hard in them [without my tutor].

6.3.10 Another young person, participating in an out of school project, spoke of his pride in achieving in maths. He said that he was enjoying his learning more and that he might not have 'gone up a level' in mainstream school: 'I'm concentrating here and wee fools are not annoying me. I'm not being argumentative.' Indeed, several young people spoke of the support they received with their academic work and how alternatives to mainstream education worked for them.

Better than if I was in mainstream school because there's more support. Whereas there's too many other people in a mainstream school for the teachers. At this project, I've achieved, actually managing to do some school work.

[The mentor]…gives you time to let off steam whenever you want. [They make it] stress free.

6.3.11 For many of the young people positive experiences were related to the more social aspects of the pilot projects which were regarded as helpful and motivating. Outdoor activities such as mountain biking, canoeing and rock-scrambling, sports activities, working with younger children and meeting new friends were cited as positive elements. The flexible nature of the learning environment and the learning process were seen as strengths. Several young people talked about the project workers' attitudes as being pivotal in the success of the project.

…it's totally different, 'cause they're treating me like I'm a person. …here they listen to what you've got to say and they're taking it into account and they try and support you in everything you need.

I've probably learned more here than I have at school because at school I don't like it when teachers tell me what to do. I just won't listen at all and won't do the work. [Here] the [tutor] tells me that I've got as much time as I need so I just take my time and get it done.

Good to have someone to chat to about things

6.3.12 After hearing about the range of activities that one young person was involved in, a researcher asked if he thought the project made him feel quite special. He responded: 'We're treated like kings.' Several young people said their attendance improved and that they had had fewer exclusions from school. One young person spoke about how the project had helped him reduce his 'skiving' and stay in school for longer. Another, who had been out of school for more than a year, spoke thoughtfully about how she had been helped to return gradually.

We started out for half an hour, then an hour and I'm taking two classes a day at the moment, which is pretty good because before, I was having panic attacks. It feels like I've been there for years and I know them all. I'm just getting on with it. But the first steps are the hardest ones.

6.3.13 Several young people felt that their behaviour had improved as a result of the project work. One young person had a 'contract' between herself, her mother and the school. This allowed her to visit her mother if her attendance and behaviour remained stable. The contract conditions have never had to be revoked: 'Now I am being good for the sake of being good, but at the start the only reason I was being good was just because of this stuff' [the contract].

6.3.14 The following reflections were made by a young person who believed that the project, and new friendships, had changed his attitude to dealing with conflict.

I've made quite a lot of friends, when before, I didn't have that many because I was fighting. That's what made me feel in with the crowd now, 'cause I've got heaps more friends. The people I don't get on with, I just ignore them. If they try to start fights with you, you just ignore it and walk away. I've learned that from past experiences.

Difficulties encountered

6.3.15 In relation to difficulties encountered, some young people commented on the potential for being stigmatised. Some referred to the embarrassment of being part of something different and being perceived by others as being different, yet: 'We are just the same as other people'. One young person suggested that being taken out of class made him stand out.

It was annoying when that woman kept coming into classes and taking us out. Then going back in, everyone said 'Who's that, who's that' who's that? It would be better if they took people when they're not in class time to talk to them.

6.3.16 In one project, two young people talked about the difficulties they perceived. These related to the number of people requiring help and, more interestingly, the rationale behind selecting young people to participate in the project.

Homework club is boring. There are too many of us to get help. Boredom makes us misbehave. The older ones are left to themselves because the young ones are getting help.

[Those who plan] …should check records and if they don't have a problem, then don't make the young people do the project. Young people should choose if and when they want to join in, like before exams.

Recommendations for future projects

6.3.17 Some of the young people we interviewed made very thought-provoking recommendations for future projects of this kind. One interviewee thought the project would be beneficial to others like him, in achieving their potential.

…and also they've expected me to do it and that's spurred me on 'cause I want to prove that they're right and I can achieve.

6.3.18 One young person spoke about his own experiences and offered some advice for teachers and other professionals: 'Give me a chance to speak, because every time I try to speak, they say 'Oh, I don't care what you do.' Another suggested:

I would say to teachers, don't push me as hard as you can. Support me….I was a wee s*** and as soon as I hit primary six everything just started going wrong in my life. But my head master supported me. He stopped me going AWOL. [He] just wouldn't give up on me.

6.3.19 To conclude this section of the chapter, we quote moving and thought-provoking words of a young person considering things that might make a difference.

[Having] extra time with someone. Getting to know someone, getting to trust them and then being able to let go. Time to adjust to the idea of going back. Stop bribing and threatening with what you are going to end up like, because we are too young to care. We need extra support and help if we're struggling. Using activities that a person likes is the best way to educate them. I like drama and you could do all sorts of things connected to drama, like connecting it to English. People find school really boring but people learn more when they are having fun. … Talk to people, get to know what they're like. Get to know their strengths. You'll need to concentrate on their weaknesses, but don't push their weaknesses too much. School teachers could learn a lot from us kids, like we can learn a lot from them. If we work together, I believe that we can both come to a conclusion.

Perspectives of the parents or foster carers

6.3.20 The perspectives of the parents/carers emerging from an analysis of the interviews were grouped under three main headings: impact of the project; particular strengths; and problems encountered.

6.3.21 In terms of impact of the pilot projects, positive psychological outcomes for their children and positive educational outcomes were the most important themes. Some of our interviewees also identified personal psychological benefits. Positive psychological outcomes for the children and young people highlighted by the parents/carers included increased confidence, improvements in sense of self, and also social benefits, such as gaining friends.

He's a fantastic boy and it's ever since [the pilot project]: because they've gied him confidence. He thought he was a nothin', d'ya know what I mean?...I was a drug addict for seven years…he probably never hud the support of me. But now [named a project worker] has been supporting me and supporting [son]. (Parent)

6.3.22 Altered constructions of identity featured in the accounts of some of the parents, as in 'realising he's a good person', or 'ridding himself of his bad image', or 'finding himself again'. Improvements in self-image were expressed in improved coping strategies, positive attitudes and increased aspiration.

All over, he's able to talk for himself. When I first met him he wouldn't talk, but he's happy to talk to everybody now, and very positively… He's more able to cope even when there is difficult circumstances because he's still going through quite a lot, but he's not letting it affect school work and behaviour. (Foster Carer)

He might have fallen back into, 'I don't want to come', and that. But he's been changing his sort of life style, since he came here… He was never a cheeky bairn. I'm glad he's no. But his attitude was something of concern, his attitude towards old people in the street or tenements, in company. But it's all good. (Parent)

6.3.23 Positive outcomes specifically related to education included improvements in attendance and returning to school after periods of non-attendance or exclusion, being enabled to stay on in school beyond age 16, improved relationships with teachers and being noticeably happier.

[Young person] went from not going to school at all for nine months (missed third year). For the first week we got him back into school, apart from the first two days, where on the first day I dropped him off at school and he just went missing for the day, and the second day he went missing for two periods, but from that he's went every day, every period and got 1s. (Foster Carer)

In this six month period [child 1] has come back to finding school fun again. He was under so much pressure. He's the eldest and he saw so much of what went on, whereas [child 2] has coped completely differently: he just floats into school and gets on with enjoying himself and gets down to his work. [Child 1] went through a really emotional time and tried to blame me for destroying his world. (Parent of two children involved in pilot project)

6.3.24 Some of our interviewees were very clear about the benefits accruing to them from involvement with pilot project activity, either because happier, more settled children helped to reduce strains on parents, or because they had been personally supported.

She [support worker] never forgets about me, even if it's just to phone me up for whatever. She phones me about once a week to see if everything's all right, whatever. She got me a freezer, she got me a rug, just pure nice things. (Parent)

…I've spent a lot of time with his reading and homework and helping him and he's come a long way. His anxiety's gone…So it's been uphill with his learning, to really encourage and push him forward and showing him fun things. [Project teacher] has been great in that sense…it's about finding activities where there's not so much pressure about 'do this work, do that work'. Doing fun activities… [Project teacher] also got us passes for swimming at [a club]. That's absolutely brilliant because it gives us a little something extra to look forward to. We go swimming every day. There was a gardening project in the school also that I've been doing with them, building the garden. (Parent)

Direct contact with [specialist teacher] makes you feel involved. Doesn't feel like [specialist teacher] and the school are taking over. You get your say. Quite different from my previous experience. Has benefited me through the effect on [daughter] - she is a lot more tolerant of her brother. Happier house. (Parent)

6.3.25 The strengths of pilot projects highlighted by parents/carers included perceived benefits for themselves and for their children, and developing relationships or having improved communication with project workers or schools.

I'm really pleased that it's there [project]. It makes you feel that bit more confident. He's doing better now. Mr [specialist teacher] is really consistent and we're working together now to get him through the exams. (Parent)

6.3.26 Problems described by the parents or carers fell into two categories: those which concerned the young people; and those more related to 'the system'. However, the problems highlighted were not usually specifically related to the pilot projects, but were either more generally those experienced in relation to social work and education agencies, or were those which involvement in the projects had helped to ameliorate. In fact, unsurprisingly, the parents or carers who agreed to participate in interviews were all positive about the pilot projects.

6.3.27 Problems concerning young people and their families included behavioural difficulties and a lack of stability in their lives. Young people can lack stability as a result of changes in care placement, and even when they do not change school, difficulties can emerge in school due to the other upheavals. How schools and teachers react can make a big difference.

I've sat in meetings with teachers and you can see that the teachers have no understanding of the child and if they don't understand the child the child picks up on that. It's the first thing the child picks up on. (Foster Carer)

6.3.28 The systemic problems described by the parents or carers resemble those identified by professionals, such as 'education and social work are not working to the same plan', feeling that the system creates barriers to accessing support and not being 'kept in the loop'. One carer spoke about the system 'crowding' a young person, while another made the point that too much support can be counterproductive because it can be confusing.

She meets too many people at the moment, psychologist and such, and I'm still waiting for a medical. I'd to take her down to the health centre for a medical with a woman doctor that we've never met before. She had a file that thick on [young person] and the first question she asks [young person] is, 'How often do you see your mum and dad?' Now, her mum and dad's been dead for years. (Relative Carer)

6.4 Conclusions

6.4.1 The aim of the fieldwork was to consider the impact of the pilot projects from the perspectives of the young people, their parents/carers and the professionals working directly with them.

6.4.2 In terms of impact, the most important theme emerging from the interviews with the practitioners was a general desire to increase achievement, while providing support for young people, their parents and carers and schools. Practitioners also emphasised the importance of stability and a sense of normality for looked after children and young people, as the basis of achievement in education.

6.4.3 The practitioners also highlighted the importance of helping looked after children and young people to develop social and life skills through the creative use of a variety of learning experiences, including outdoor activities and more informal learning opportunities. Using a variety of approaches is important in meeting the varied needs of young people.

6.4.4 The practitioners said that involvement in the pilot activities had a positive impact on attendance at school. This view is generally supported by the quantitative data analysis (see Chapter 7).

6.4.5 Involvement in activities designed specifically to support education does appear to make a difference in a relatively short period of time. This observation is also supported by the quantitative data analysis.

6.4.6 In terms of effectiveness, individualising the approach (keeping the child at the centre), being flexible, including involving the young person in choosing the focus of learning, and providing a breadth of learning opportunities, appear to be important strategies.

6.4.7 Practitioners highlighted the importance of good communication between professionals, and between agencies, as being crucial to the success of a project, and, conversely, poor communication being responsible for problems. In some pilots, difficulties were related to the inadequacies of data management systems, a point that is also supported by the quantitative data analysis.

6.4.8 The young people valued the fact that the adults who worked with them showed belief in their capacity to achieve, treated them with respect and encouraged their autonomy. They spoke warmly about the relationships they had developed and evidently felt that the adults did care about them.

6.4.9 It was clear from our interviews with parents and carers, that they derived immense support indirectly from interventions designed to improve the achievement of their children. They also indicated that involvement in pilot activities had made a positive impact on the self-esteem and confidence of their children.

6.4.10 Some projects experienced delays in starting up, mostly related to staff recruitment, and particularly where internal secondments were involved. Where a range of professionals, from different agencies, are involved in working with looked after children and young people, it is not only important to be clear about roles and boundaries, but also, it is essential to have a sound strategy for working together.

6.4.11 Project workers, in particular, indicated their concern about the sustainability of the work of the pilot projects, once the specific funding had ended.