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

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3.0 / Setting up a project to raise the attainment and achievement of looked after children and young people

Key research findings

  • The very existence of a specific project about the achievement and educational attainment of looked after children and young people made a significant impact in terms of raising awareness among many professionals in the pilot authorities.
  • 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.
  • Organisational factors which improved the success of the projects included strong leadership, clear and achievable aims, detailed planning, interdisciplinary training, positive communication and good management. Factors which negatively affected projects included problems with data management systems, lack of clarity, difficulties in the recruitment and retention of staff, poor communication and problems emerging from the short term nature of the funding.
  • The attitudes and values of project staff were found to be crucial in successful direct work with children and young people and their families. Staff who believed in the children they were working with, treated them with respect and had high expectations for them, were more able to engage children successfully in their education.

The pilot projects were very varied in aims and approach but could be characterised by five different types of intervention:

  • educational support, typically in literacy and maths
  • personal education planning
  • support at key transition points, such as from nursery to primary and primary to secondary
  • developing staff and parent/carer capacity and
  • utilising computer-based approaches

All of the project leaders interviewed reported positive outcomes resulting from the various interventions, including increases in attendance, reduction in exclusions, re-engagement with education, as well as improvements in softer measures, such as increased confidence.

"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."

(Parent)

Suggestions for practice

  • There are clear advantages in setting up a project with the aim of encouraging achievement and higher attainment among looked after children and young people but to be successful a project needs to have a clear purpose, have achievable goals and identify success indicators. The project managers must also be clear how success will feed into mainstream practice.
  • Senior management support is vital, particularly where the project involves staff from different departments. Consider having a project advisory group to oversee the work and receive progress reports. Don't underestimate the need for robust project management to ensure that the aims are met. There also need to be clear arrangements for data gathering.
  • Give careful thought to the staff roles required and the importance of having project staff with appropriate values and attitudes. Staff should have high aspirations for and expectations of looked after children and young people. Consider the potential difficulties associated with recruitment and retention, particularly in relation to seconded staff and those on temporary contracts.
  • Plan the evaluation strategy before beginning the project, and be clear about the kind of data to be analysed and the arrangements for its collection. Some of the pilot projects underestimated the amount of negotiation and planning required for the collection of data (see Section 2).
  • Good evidence is vital in making a case for future resources and sustaining gains achieved in a project. In order to have robust evidence of progress, it is important to make arrangements to collect data at two points (baseline and outcome data) and to consider also how you will collect evidence of 'softer' indicators, for example, strengths and difficulties (using the SDQ1 or similar instruments) and positive stories of life achievements.
  • The accounts of previous or current projects are valuable resources at the planning stage. Useful sources include the summaries of the 18 pilot projects in Appendix 2 of the final research report (Connelly et al., 2008), the report of a study commissioned by Durham County Council (White, 2007) and the Sharing Practice section of the Looked After Children website.
  • Consider using the opportunities provided by the members' area of the website to engage in peer discussion about initial ideas for a project.

"Be aspirational for Looked After children any young people and care leavers, holding the same expectations good parents would have for their own children."

( These Are Our Bairns (The Scottish Government, 2008a), p.29)