02 / Becoming Effective Life Long Learners
Scotland's looked after children and young people should be encouraged and supported throughout their lives to maximise their educational potential. All of our looked after children and young people should have the required skills, knowledge and confidence to become effective life long learners.
Where we are now:
Guidance to the Children (Scotland) 1995 Act states:
Children who are looked after should have the same educational opportunities as all other children for education, including further and higher education, and access to other opportunities for development.
- In 2005-06 the attendance rates for children and young people
looked after at home was 84.8%, looked after away from home was
91.5% and for all looked after children and young people was
87.9%; compared to an attendance rate of 93.1% for children and
young people who were not looked after.
(Attendance and Absence in Scottish Schools 2005-2006)
- In 2004-05, the exclusion rate
per 1000 pupils
for children and young people looked after at home was
323, for looked after away from home was 354 and for all looked
after children and young people was 339; compared to 53 for those
who were not looked after.
(Exclusion from Schools 2004-2005)
- In 2004-05, 4.1% of children not looked after left school
with no qualifications at
level 3 or above; this figure increased to 24% where the young person was looked after and accommodated and 41.9% when looked after at home.
( SQA Attainment and School Leaver Qualifications in Scotland 2004-2005)
Information regarding attendance and exclusion are gathered through schools management information systems and reported separately to the school census. Currently, while looked after children and young people are not always identified consistently within the various educational establishments, rendering the data gathered less reliable than it should be, there is general consensus that the statistics accurately reflect trends. Thus, it is widely accepted that, as a group, looked after children and young people perform less well at school; when compared to the general school population their attendance rates are lower, their exclusion rates are higher and their academic attainment is lower.
Extraordinary Lives acknowledges that looked after children and young people can face additional barriers to success in education, including a lack of full-time education (sometimes for substantial periods of time) when looked after children and young people are excluded from school. In addition it highlights particular difficulties faced by children in residential schools, including a shorter school week and weaknesses in pupils' attainment in English and Mathematics.
Because of poorer educational attainment at school fewer looked after children go into further and especially higher education. Raising the educational attainment level will provide greater opportunities for them to benefit from further or higher education. Educational attainment in itself will not be enough and colleges and universities must be responsive to the holistic needs of this group.
Of course, some looked after children and young people do well at school in relation to their attendance and attainment and go on to further education, employment or training. Building on the publication of the 2001 Learning With Care report there has been a variety of policy initiatives, both locally and nationally, to support children and young people to do just this.
Learning With Care recommended that each school should have a Designated Senior Manager with specific responsibility for looked after children and young people. This has now occurred; however there is still a great deal of variation as to how the role is both defined and carried out across Scotland.
We have established several targets around Closing the Opportunity Gap which focus on improving outcomes for this cohort of young people. Target B deals with reducing the proportion of 16-19 year olds not in education, employment or training; Target F looks to increase the average tariff score of the lowest attaining 20% of S4 pupils; and Target G aims to reduce the number of looked after young people leaving care who are not in education, employment or training.
We are also funding 18 local authorities across Scotland to take forward pilot work to improve the educational outcomes of looked after children and young people. These pilots target a cross-section of the issues and barriers to success in education which are raised in both this report and Extraordinary Lives. The initiatives include flexible teaching, homework and exam support, nurture groups, resilience based initiatives, transition support and training. All of the pilot initiatives will conclude by Summer 2008 and a national evaluation of the various initiatives will be published by the end of the same year. In addition, each of the funded local authorities will also produce a final report detailing the development and impact of their individual pilot initiatives.
In addition to the various initiatives aimed specifically at looked after children and young people, there are numerous policies and initiatives targeted at improving the educational outcomes and experiences of all Scotland's children and young people - especially those young people who may be at risk of school disaffection. For example:
- The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (the ASL Act), commenced in November 2005, aims to create a stronger, better system for supporting children's learning. This Act aims to ensure that all children and young people receive the additional support required to meet their individual needs and to help them make the most of their education. The term additional support needs applies to children and young people who, for whatever reason, require additional support in order for them to make the most of their school education. The Act introduces a new framework for supporting children and young people in their school education.
- The ASL Act imposes duties on education authorities (in Scotland these are the local authorities) to make adequate and efficient provision for the additional support needs for each child or young person and to make arrangements for identifying additional support needs. The Act also has significant implications for service providers and professionals working in health and social work and requires them, and other appropriate agencies, to help the education authority in the exercise of their duties under the Act when requested to do so.
- We provide authorities with £29 million per year within the National Priorities Action Fund ( NPAF) which may be used for flexible support provision within schools.
- A Curriculum for Excellence reaffirms our commitment to provide choice and flexibility within education to meet the needs of individual young people.
- Our Positive Behaviour Team for Better Behaviour - Better Learning continues to provide training and support to education authorities and schools to embed approaches to promoting positive behaviour and relationships in school, e.g. Restorative Practices and Solution Oriented School.
- The 2001 Teachers Agreement explicitly sets out that all teachers have a duty to promote and safeguard the health, welfare and safety of all.
- The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 recognises that children's learning outcomes are enhanced when parents, foster carers and residential workers are effectively involved in their education. The Act requires every education authority to prepare a strategy for promoting parental involvement, which must include how they work with parents, foster carers and residential workers in relation to children who are looked after.
- The Personal Support for Learning Implementation Team will be spending time focusing on raising awareness of the needs of looked after children and young people.
- We are promoting knowledge and understanding of the 10 standards for Personal Support for Learning (pastoral care) set out in Happy, Safe and Achieving Their Potential across all of the relevant bodies and organisations.
- HMIE will monitor and evaluate education authorities in their implementation of the ASL Act and will report to Ministers in Autumn 2007.
- The Executive's Lifelong Learning Strategy for Scotland Life through Learning, Learning through Life published in February 2003, has as one of its five goals, a Scotland where people have the chance to learn, irrespective of their background or current personal circumstances.
What the Group said:
The group agreed that a number of factors can contribute to becoming effective learners, including: the learning environment; family and home circumstances; health; and social and environmental factors. However, the group was critical of the current educational outcomes of Scotland's looked after children and young people. They felt very strongly that these were nowhere near good enough; more must be done to improve the opportunities and chances for our looked after children and young people to overcome earlier disadvantage and become effective life long learners.
The group was adamant that to achieve the best outcomes for looked after children and young people it is essential that they receive the right sorts of supports and educational stimulation at all ages and stages of their lives; from pre-school to further and higher education. This is even more important for this vulnerable group of young people given their individual circumstances, which have led to them being looked after.
What can be challenging times for all children and young people - the transition from pre-school to primary school; the transition from primary to secondary school; the transition to post-school; subject choice; sitting exams; making decisions which affect future career options - can be particularly difficult for those looked after children who may also be coping with difficult family circumstances; a change of home; a change of school; or, as they reach adulthood, how they will cope living on their own.
Thus the group was shocked at how highly looked after children and young people feature in the exclusion rates from school. They felt that whilst it is important that head teachers retain the right to exclude disruptive pupils, schools also need to be aware of the many challenges and obstacles looked after children and young people face; schools need to deal with looked after children and young people's behaviour in, and attitudes to, school with sensitivity.
In addition, the group was extremely concerned about the anecdotal evidence presented which suggested that many of our looked after children and young people have experienced placement or school moves around the time of their examinations.
The group saw continuity, stability, a sense of security and support as key to ensuring that looked after children and young people do as well as their peers in terms of achievement and attainment at school and in positively participating in the wider school community.
These considerations led the group to ask:
- What mechanisms are in place to flag up how many looked after children and young people are in a school, or likely to be sitting examinations?
- What mechanisms exist to flag up when a looked after child or young person might require additional support?
- How easy is it for parents, foster carers, residential workers, social workers and designated members of staff to talk to one another?
- How confident do these people feel about sharing information?
- Is there clarity around the respective roles and responsibilities of the key people in a looked after child or young person's life?
The group acknowledged that there were no easy answers. However, there was a general consensus that we must be more aspirational and coordinated in our commitment to and delivery of improving educational outcomes for our looked after children and young people.
What Scotland's looked after children and young people have said:
Having Your Say came up with a powerful range of issues, which the children and young people felt needed to be addressed in their learning environment in order to impact more positively on their educational experience and journey. These were: homework support, exclusions, support in schools, role of the school base, access to professionals in schools, information sharing and transition. The most frequently cited priority for these children and young people was homework support and exclusions. However the children and young people were also vocal in the nature of support they desired in school, in the school base and when facing transition. These were: tutor support; advice leaflets on exclusions; assurance that exclusion would not become a process of "a one way road, with no return"; buddy systems; circle time; flexible packages of teaching support; chill out rooms; and opportunity to share concerns and worries and feel listened to in regard to these.
The Debate Project also considered the issue of education and the learning environment. While only just over a fifth of young people mentioned that they had gained or were studying for formal qualifications, at least half said they would like to go to college or to take up further education. However, nearly half of those who answered did not have a quiet room to study in or adult help or encouragement to study and learn. Young people also mentioned that poor literacy skills and grades, learning difficulties, lack of support and poor self-worth hindered their ability to achieve. The most commonly cited support that the young people involved in this project said mattered to them was: support workers, one-to-one support, friends, nice teachers, foster parents and someone to talk to and trust.
More than half of looked after children and young people consulted as part of the production of A Different Class? Educational Attainment - the views and experiences of looked after young people, (A Different Class) expressed their aspiration to achieve academically; however only a few were aiming for third level education and only females aspired to attend university. For younger children, their aspirations lay in the social aspect of school life and they were motivated by the need to learn. A key motivation for the children and young people was a positive relationship with teachers. For many of the children and young people their motivation was equalled by their aspirations. In relation to improving their educational outcomes the recommendations from the children and young people included: increase the numbers of teachers and support staff, increase class resources and decrease class sizes. In addition, the children and young people also recommended that there should be increased levels of participation in school and an increased awareness of the issues faced by looked after children and young people by school staff.
- Learning environments need flexibility in order to provide not only effective academic support, but also opportunities for personal and social support.
- Self-worth and self-esteem are integral to the learning process.
- Exclusion and transition are critical and potentially cross-road points in the lives of looked after children and young people; there is the strong potential that additional support will be required at these times, both as a preventative measure and also in response to their occurrence.
- Raising awareness of the educational needs of looked after children and young people amongst school, social work, parents, foster carers and residential workers is essential.
The way ahead - our pledge to Scotland's looked after children and young people:
Our looked after children and young people need someone both in school and at home who understands their issues and supports their educational attainment.
In partnership with COSLA, local authorities and Learning and Teaching Scotland, we will produce a list of core tasks which clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the designated person within each school or residential establishment who undertakes this important role. The list of core tasks will be published as part of a practical resource developed to provide support for the designated person.
Next steps required:
a) We will write to councils and independent providers of residential establishments asking them to identify a senior member of staff who will take particular responsibility for ensuring that appropriate resources are in place within their establishment for supporting the education of their children and young people.
b) We will consult with existing Designated Senior Managers, lead professionals and relevant stakeholders, to collate information regarding current practice around:
- the role and responsibilities of Designated Senior Managers/ lead professionals
- sharing of information
- recording procedures
- flexible curriculum
- attending meetings/reviews/children's hearings/parents' evenings
- "hellos and goodbyes" (welcome and transition procedures)
- involving children and young people in decision making.
c) Based on the outcome of the consultation, we will develop a list of core tasks and a practical resource and toolkit.
d) We will publish and distribute practical resource to all educational establishments and all providers of residential care outlining our expectations in relation to this role.
There are too many disparities in transitional arrangements for our looked after children and young people, whether this is on entering the system, moving to a new placement, moving school, leaving school or exiting the care system.
We will commission the development of guidance and a practical resource which will focus on those looked after children and young people who have experienced or who are likely to experience a challenging transition.
Next steps required:
a) We will commission an appropriate provider to develop a practical resource and toolkit, which will provide guidance, templates and activities on how to minimise the impact of beginning and endings in the educational and care settings, i.e. induction to new school, reintegration following school exclusion, and transitions to new learning and care experiences, settings and staff. This will include cross-reference to risk transition planning, as required by Getting It Right For Every Child, and the ASL Act as outlined in the guidance contained in the Supporting Children's Learning Code of Practice.
Materials will be produced, with a view to being rolled out during the academic year 2007-08
b) We will work with HMIE to develop a guide on effective transitions to post school taking account of the provisions of the ASL Act and the transition from school guidance produced by Skill Scotland.
c) Post School Psychological Services, in rolling out the strategy as part of NEET implementation, the twenty services funded will be encouraged to ensure that looked after young people are a high priority group in developing improved transition support and information sharing procedures.
d) Getting It Right For Every Child will put in place a lead professional where appropriate. This lead professional should either be, or liaise significantly with, the key person who supports educational attainment. The Supporting Children's Learning Code of Practice also identifies that the appointment of a key worker is something that should be considered for a child or young person with additional support needs during the transitional phase to post school provision.
Too many looked after children and young people continue to experience higher rates of non-attendance and exclusion than their non-looked after peers.
We will highlight the particular issues faced by looked after children in relation to school attendance and exclusion.
Next steps required:
a) We have included specific reference to the needs of looked after children in our guidance on attendance in Scottish schools - Engaged and Involved. This is currently published for consultation and will be issued in 2007.
b) We will review existing guidance to education authorities on school exclusion to ensure that it properly reflects their role as corporate parents and the specific needs and circumstances of looked after children.
c) We know there are examples of good practice in Scotland where education authorities use corporate parenting training and their authority guidance on school exclusion to encourage special consideration of the needs and circumstances of looked after children when making decisions on how to respond to their behaviour in school. We will put in place a mechanism to share good practice in this area.
d) We will continue to monitor and analyse differential data on exclusion of looked after children, and to consider what further action may be required.