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


1.0 / Raising the profile of looked after children and young people

Key research findings

  • Practitioners interviewed had a general desire to increase achievement, while providing support for young people, their parents and carers, and schools. They 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.
  • Parents and carers 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.
  • Good communication between agencies and professionals involved in the pilots was associated with success. The high quality links that were created, particularly between the schools and social work, were seen as one of the important long-term outcomes of the project.

An important by-product of the pilot projects was the opportunity to raise awareness within the local authorities and their partners about the need to give particular attention to the education and attainment of looked after children and young people. The research confirmed the generally poor educational outcomes of looked after children although it also highlighted the positive effects which can be achieved when young people have high engagement with study-related cultural and sport activities.

"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 third 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."

(Co-ordinator of Education Support Team)

Suggestions for practice

  • All those who work with looked after children and young people should be familiar with the national guidance on being a good 'corporate parent' provided in These Are Our Bairns (Scottish Government, 2008a).
  • Good corporate parents know exactly which children and young people are looked after. Schools, in particular, need to be aware that they have particular responsibilities to all looked after children and young people, including those looked after at home. An explanation of the legal distinction between being looked after at home and away from home (sometimes referred to as being accommodated) is provided in A Brief Summary of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995: Looked After Children (Scottish Government, 2008b) which can be downloaded from the Looked After Children website.
  • Practitioners should advocate to ensure that Single Outcome Agreements and Integrated Children's Services Plans encompass improving the educational experiences and outcomes of all looked after children (i.e. those looked after at home, as well as those looked after away from home).
  • The Looked After Children website, maintained by Learning and Teaching Scotland, is a portal for accessing all relevant policy documents, good practice advice, information about events and continuing professional development opportunities, and it provides a forum for connecting practitioners.
  • Designated managers in schools and residential establishments have a crucial role in helping to provide a stable environment as the basis for achievement. Advice for designated managers about the responsibilities of their role is outlined in Core Tasks for Designated Managers in Educational and Residential Establishments (The Scottish Government, 2008c).
  • Children's panels and professionals involved in planning care placements need to be aware of the potential advantages for the families of children and young people looked after at home of support directly targeted at encouraging achievement and raising attainment.
  • Students in teacher education institutions need to have opportunities to gain an awareness of looked after children and young people and their circumstances. Teachers, classroom assistants and other relevant school staff should be able to participate in continuing professional development about the support needs of pupils who are looked after.
  • The We Can and Must Do Better Training Materials, contained in an interactive DVD- ROM designed for self-study and group sessions, are available to support training for a range of professionals with an interest in looked after children and young people. An information leaflet explaining how teachers and related professionals can help to improve the achievements of looked after children and young people, is available to download from the 'Guidance for Teachers' area of the General Teaching Council for Scotland website.

"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)

  • These Are Our Bairns (The Scottish Government, 2008a) includes advice on the responsibilities of elected members (Section 4). Some local authorities have identified elected members and senior officers to act as 'champions' for looked after children and young people. It is important to provide information and training opportunities to support these roles.
  • All service providers should evaluate their support for the education of looked after children and young people using both the high level questions in A Guide to Evaluating Services for Children and Young People using Quality Indicators ( HMIE, 2006) and the more specific quality indicators in Evaluating Education and Care Placements for Looked After Children and Young People ( HMIE, 2003), part of the How good is our school? series of self-evaluation guides.

"Promote a positive view of Looked After children and young people and care leavers, and help to raise public awareness about the care system."

( These Are Our Bairns (The Scottish Government (2008a), p.21)