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Improving the Education of Looked After Children: A Guide for Local Authorities and Service Providers

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2.0 / Monitoring the educational outcomes of looked after children and young people

Key research findings

  • The research uncovered difficulties in collecting robust data about the outcomes of looked after children and young people. The data tracking systems of the pilot local authorities were found to be of variable quality, with missing information and errors being commonplace.
  • Some projects underestimated the amount of negotiation and planning required to identify the young people and output information. Discrepancies were found between records for the same child held on different databases. Sometimes information was missing or incorrect.
  • There were discrepancies in recording the attendance of looked after children and young people who were in part-time education or attending off-site projects.

The research with the pilot authorities highlighted recording errors, such as discrepancies between records for the same child held on separate social work and education databases within the same local authority, and incorrect attendance and attainment information. Sometimes the explanation appeared to lie in a failure to record information, particularly when a child had moved care and school placements. The tendency for looked after children and young people to become lost in the education system has also been noted in previous research, and solving this problem is crucial to helping them achieve in education.

"We quickly realised that a pupil can be attending on a very part-time basis - as little as two hours weekly - and their attendance is registered as 100 per cent. There is a school of thought that the pupil is attending to the best of their ability and 100 per cent is an appropriate figure, but it gives a very misleading impression of the amount of education this pupil is receiving, and the more worrying thing is that an undesirable minimum of attendance might easily go unnoticed by those who are not in direct contact with the pupil."

(Project Co-ordinator)

Suggestions for practice

  • Schools can only put in place support systems if they know which pupils are looked after. There should be very clear arrangements within a local authority for informing schools when a pupil becomes looked after, or when a looked after child or young person joins the school. Similarly there should be arrangements for informing schools about changes in legal status, care placement, or discharge from care. Schools will normally receive information from the Children's Panel Reporter. (For more information about the children's hearing system, refer to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration website.) Schools also need to have access to good advice from, for example, a social worker, educational psychologist and looked after children's nurse, so they can provide the most appropriate support.
  • It is good practice for a liaison professional (often this will be a social worker) to inform the school's designated senior manager for looked after children and young people in person. In one pilot the social work database was amended to include a field to note the details of the school attended. This allowed the information to be sorted by school and for details to be provided monthly to relevant schools.

"The designated senior manager must know which pupils in their establishment are looked after and, in the same way as for all other pupils, maintain confidential files in relation to each of them [and] should act as the liaison person within the school for social work, education, local health services, and other relevant agencies."

( Core Tasks for Designated Managers in Educational and Residential Establishments in Scotland
(The Scottish Government (2008c), p.8)

  • It is important to distinguish between reporting and monitoring functions. Reporting means providing data about a cohort of looked after children and young people for the purposes of considering year-on-year progress, for instance against targets set out in Single Outcome Agreements and Integrated Children Services Plans. Monitoring means anticipating potential impacts on education of being looked after and providing effective support without undue delay.
  • A robust electronic system for collecting accurate information about attendance, exclusion, school and placement moves, and attainment is essential so that local authorities and the Scottish Government can make accurate reports annually on the outcomes for looked after children and young people and care leavers. This is vital for reviewing progress nationally against the broad aim to narrow the gap in educational attainment between looked after children and young people and those not looked after.
  • Accurate reporting is also vital for developing local policies, for deployment of resources, and for supporting the development of services to meet clearly identified needs and gaps.
  • Specialist planning and statistics staff within local authorities and service providers should be involved in developing, managing and operating data systems.
  • The educational progress of individual looked after children and young people should be monitored to ensure that there can be early intervention if difficulties arise, and to help in making a case for appropriate supports and resources.
  • Effective monitoring can only happen if schools, carers and social workers develop good working relationships. The responsibility for monitoring the progress of a pupil who is looked after lies with the school's designated senior manager. This responsibility includes liaison with social work services in relation to educational aspects of the care plan and making arrangements for support within the school. Educational psychologists have particular expertise in conducting assessments and providing advice, and should be involved where appropriate in the monitoring process.
  • Effective data management is important for generic reporting and monitoring purposes and also for evaluating specific projects aimed at improving the educational attainment and achievement of looked after children and young people (see Section 3).

"Although data is be used for the purposes of reporting outcomes at a local and national level, the primary reason for collecting and sharing data is to identify and meet the needs of individual looked after children and young people."

(Improving the educational outcomes of Scotland's looked after children:
A new reporting framework (Scottish Government, 2009))

  • The school's usual pupil support arrangements can be used, but experience indicates the value of having in place an effective system for regularly monitoring educational progress. For instance, one pilot local authority included the development of a monthly monitoring system in relation to their looked after children and young people. Each month school liaison groups discuss all looked after children and updated information is sent to a local joint action team. Where difficulties cannot be resolved a service manager can intervene.
  • Schools may require additional support or guidance, e.g. from a link educational psychologist or social worker, to fulfil their obligations to co-operate in monitoring and reporting where the 'corporate parent' is another local authority (i.e. where a child or young person is placed with a foster carer who lives within the school's catchment area).
  • Various studies have highlighted delays in the transfer of school reports when looked after children and young people move schools. Teachers have also complained about time wasted in unnecessary form-filling or repeating assessments. The responsibility for the transfer of records lies with designated senior managers. Good practice guidance indicates that this should happen within five working days ( Core Tasks for Designated Managers (Scottish Government, 2008c), p.19).
  • Schools should take particular care when recording the attendance of a pupil who is looked after. When a pupil is temporarily attending a specialist off-site project, the school where the pupil is enrolled retains the responsibility for recording attendance. Suitable arrangements should be in place to ensure that regular attendance information is provided to the school by the off-site project.

"Local authorities and their partners can improve the effectiveness of the ways in which they assess and meet the needs of looked after children by… using strategic joint approaches to ensure that support methods are built on the best of practice and that the necessary resources are brought to bear on children's problems at the earliest possible stage."

( Count Us In: Improving the Education of Our Looked After Children ( HMIE, 2008), Appendix 1)