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Paper

The Leicester City Council experience: looked after children’s participation and achievement in education

abstract

Introduction

It has been well documented that high quality educational provision provides the foundation for transforming the lives of looked after children (e.g. Department for Education and Skills 2007, Dean 2008). Leicester City Council has invested heavily in supporting the education of its looked after children over the years and the authority is delivering greater participation and achievement in education at all key stages than ever before. The success and achievement of looked after children in the city was recently one of the 'golden threads' that led to Children and Young People's Services being awarded Beacon Status for Care Matters in February 2008.

 

Purpose

The creation of the Raising Achievement for Looked After Children Team (RALAC) some years ago now heralded the beginning of improvements in the city. The RALAC team works with children aged from 3 to 18 years in close partnership with education services. There are also close links with libraries, Youth Offending Teams, Fieldwork Services and Connexions. Each school in the city has a designated teacher (this was in place well before being made a statutory requirement in Care Matters), and each school has a named link worker from RALAC. RALAC holds a budget to work flexibly with the schools to support individual need. This may be for additional hours of teaching support in the classroom or for an intensive tutorial system to address a particular need.

 

Key findings

We know there are many interrelated factors that affect the learning of looked after children. Dean (2008) summarises these well, highlighting both the pre care experiences such as poor attachments, which can cause children to misunderstand or reject information and teaching. In addition, children's experiences when they enter the care system can also exacerbate difficulties, such as placement moves, causing disruption to their schooling with uncertainty and insecurity.

 

In Leicester there is no magic solution to account for the improvement we have seen in our looked after children achieving in education. Indeed, it is often the very simple solutions that are the most effective. It is the result of a combination of effective corporate parenting from the Chief Executive and Lead Member down the organisation, coupled with transformational leadership. In addition, innovative practice and the creative yet simple solutions generated by RALAC, coupled with a fundamental belief that as corporate parents we should have the same high aspirations for our looked after children at achieving in education as we do for our own children. This philosophy is also at the heart of Care Matters. This is all underpinned by placement stability and with children remaining in their communities and schools.

 

A range of educational innovations have been developed in the city over the past four years or so, all of which have improved the educational outcomes of our children and young people in care:

 

  • The Letter Box Club Project: This project aims to develop children's interest and pleasure in reading and learning. For six months, all 8 and 10 year olds receive a monthly package containing the latest fiction and non fiction titles. Given the positive impact, this has recently been taken up by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and Booktrust.
  • Target 25: This initiative supports children who are receiving less than 25 hours of education each week. A multi-agency group meets every three weeks to plan targeted support and provision to increase participation.
  • The Short Course Project: This supports students aged 15 to 18 to achieve a GCSE qualification and is run at the Short Course Centre. This is a learning resource designed to engage the most disaffected looked after children. It also acts as a means of reintegrating and re-engaging these children back into the world of education. What began as a pilot a few years ago now has become an integral part of our educational provision for looked after children. The focus is on increasing self-esteem and confidence through learning in order to enable the young person to continue in mainstream school, college or training. This has quite simply resulted in more looked after children achieving at GCSE than ever before. The programme also includes courses to help young care leavers prepare for independent living.
  • The Homework Club: The short course centre also offers all looked after young people at key stage 4 a weekly homework club. Additional maths and English teachers join the staff to offer individual tutoring to improve coursework and prepare for exams.

 

Dean (2008) found in her research that more successful authorities were those that had sound methods of identifying pupils and had centres where they bring young people in for extra tutoring and support, particularly those who did not have a school place. These findings certainly mirror the Leicester experience.

 

Implications for policy and research

  • There are no 'quick fixes' and improvements can only be made by investing and developing in educational services.
  • Intervention at Key Stage 2 is crucial and underpins success.
  • The close working relationship between RALAC and its partners and their ability to talk to each other has been vital.
  • Key factors are the range of interventions and projects in place and the ability to use funding in a targeted way and teamwork to support individual need.
  • The commitment, leadership, enthusiasm and energy of staff at all levels of the organisation and a true understanding of the corporate parenting role is fundamental.

(Lobley and Beckwith 2008)

 

References

Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) Care Matters: Time for Change, White Paper. London: DCSF.

 

Dean, S. (2008) Children in Care Innovation Project: To develop a programme to reduce school exclusions and raise educational attainment of children in care in the East Midlands (Research paper)

 

Lobley, G. and Beckwith, M. (2008) Closing the Gap: Raising the attainment of looked after children at key stage 4. Leicester: NIACE.

 

Contact details

Andy Smith, Interim Service Director, Social Care and Safeguarding, Children and Young People Services, Leicester City Council, England.

Email: Andy.Smith@leicester.gov.uk

 

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