I love giving training on looked after children. I’ve been very privileged in the last couple of months to provide courses for foster carers, designated teachers and virtual school staff, and I very much enjoyed giving a workshop for Letterbox Club last week. If you haven’t heard of it, Letterbox Club is a wonderful scheme run by Booktrust that posts books and learning-rich games and activities to looked after children.
Most children and young people in the care system have experienced trauma, loss and disruption. A high proportion suffer mental health problems. Low self-esteem and low self-confidence are commonplace, as are high anxiety levels. It doesn’t help that aspirations for looked after children are often low. All of these are significant barriers to learning. But having worked with many inspiring carers and professionals (teachers, social workers, librarians and museum workers) over the years, I know that with the right support looked after children can and do thrive, educationally and socially and emotionally.
It’s always a delight to hear carers talk about how they support learning. It’s the everyday things that often make the biggest difference to looked after children’s attitudes to learning. Things like cooking together, looking up information together, going to the shops, gardening, kicking a football around together, doing puzzles together, playing board games, playing computer games. Visits to the library and to museums can be transformative. Carers can be fabulous role models. Recent Booktrust research shows a correlation between the amount that foster carers read themselves and the amount that the children they look after read. Lots of children who enter the care system have poor reading levels for their ages, but I am not surprised that the Booktrust survey demonstrates that the longer a child has been in foster care, the longer they have been living with their foster carer and the older they become, the more likely they are to be average or above average in their reading level for their age. Enjoyment is key. Enjoying reading together, whether from books, comics, magazines, newspapers, catalogues or anything else has enormous impact. So does having lots of engaging reading materials that tie into individual interests lying around. These words of a carer highlight the power of books in foster homes: ‘We all had a go at Where’s Wally. Even the teenagers wanted to have a go.’
For anyone interested, here is a peer-reviewed article on looked-after children and reading I wrote.
Educational and other outcomes for looked after children are depressingly poor. While some thrive, all too many are let down by society. Last week I gave two courses on the role of the school and the designated teacher in supporting looked after children and ways to support LAC effectively, and one for carers and residential workers on the school role and how they can help children’s learning at home. All were for NSM, a training organisation I always enjoy working with.
I was immensely impressed with the dedication of everyone on all the courses – their determination to improve the well-being and educational attainment of the children and young people in their care was inspiring. There was a huge amount of good practice shared. One of the issues that came out loud and clear was the vital importance of good two-way communication, both formal and informal between school and carers, and not just at times of crisis. Aspiration was another common cause. Carers and schools must show LAC that they believe in them and have high aspirations for them, and need to put strategies in place to help LAC develop self-esteem and high aspirations for themselves. No two looked after children are the same, and all deserve individualised support. Sadly, there is still a stigma to the LAC label, so great sensitivity is crucial.
Below are some websites and reports I have found particularly useful.
I am very much looking forward to delivering more training on looked after children in the summer term. It’s a topic I feel very passionate about.
All You Need to Know: A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children
Care Leavers’ Foundation
Educational Progress of Looked After Children
Improving the Attainment of Looked After Children in Primary Schools
Improving the Attainment of Looked After Children in Secondary Schools
Looked After and Learning: Improving the Learning Journey for Looked After Children
Looked After Children
Looked After Children and Adoption
NSPCC Children in Care
Promoting the Education of Looked After Children
Who Cares Trust
Those interested specifically in issues relating to looked after children’s reading, may also like to see this peer-reviewed article I wrote.
Hard to believe I’ve been a trainer for twenty years. It’s been a fabulous ride. Impossible to sum up succinctly, but pictures give at least a flavour.My path into training was accidental. I’d recently finished a master’s degree, and was doing a variety of reading-related work, when a head of libraries asked me for a course on how libraries can help children’s reading. It taught me a huge amount and was enormously rewarding. Gradually training took me over.I still love giving courses and inset on ways to engage children in books and reading, whether for very young children or much older ones, whether very able, or with reading problems, or anywhere in between, and whether as training for librarians or teachers or early years practitioners or parents and carers. Running courses on effective provision for children and young people in school and public libraries and museums gives me enormous pleasure too.I have been immensely lucky to have been asked for courses on all sorts of issues that matter to me, special needs, for example, and looked after children. It’s been great to work with practitioners in a whole variety of sectors: education, libraries, museums and more. I’ve learnt such a lot from that. Along the way I have met so many fabulous and inspiring people.There have been some great training venues over the years – lots of lovely schools and libraries, and some awe-inspiring museums. Giving courses in castles has been fun, and the race course was pretty spectacular. But nowhere before or since has beaten the circus tent I once gave a workshop in.Any sadnesses? One in particular: the tragedy of library and school library services cut-backs and closures. The impact on children will be dreadful.That aside, training continues to enthral me. No two courses are ever the same. I never know what to expect, and that’s really exciting. I never stop learning.
This month has seen the publication of a special edition of Write4Children that is all about diversity, inclusion and equality issues in children’s reading and children’s literature. My article on looked-after children and reading is now on my website. It explores LAC’s literacy attainment and the reasons for their low achievement rates, discusses reading resources and the importance of sensitivity in their choice, and highlights the impact of interventions that have made reading materials more accessible to looked-after children.
Letterbox Club is a great book-gifting scheme for LAC. The photo shows an engrossed recipient of one of their packages.
It’s well worth having a look at the journal. The range of articles is fantastic. Lots of fascinating topics.
I give courses on looked-after children and reading, and am currently writing an article about the subject, which has led me to check out the latest data on LAC in the UK. Around 90,000 children are in care at any one time. The most common reason for entering the care system is abuse or neglect. The average time spent in care is two years, but 13% stay for over five. Three quarters of LAC in England and Wales are in foster placements. Over half of LAC suffer mental health problems. Looked-after children are disproportionately likely to have special educational needs. Despite improvements over the last few years, outcomes for LAC are poorer than for their peers. This is very apparent in relation to educational achievement. 6% of care leavers went to university in 2011, compared with 38% of all young people. A third of care leavers were not in education, employment or training, compared with 13% overall.
LAC fare much less well than their peers at literacy. In 2012 67% of LAC in England achieved the expected level in reading at the end of KS1, compared to 87% of non-looked-after children. (The gap for writing achievement was higher still.) The attainment gap in English between LAC and others at the end of KS2 was even greater: 60% achieved the expected level, compared with 85% of their peers. Looked-after boys’ attainment was considerably lower than looked- after girls’ at KS1, 2 and 4. The literacy attainment levels of looked- after children with SEN are significantly lower than those of non- looked-after SEN pupils. No breakdown of figures for attainment in individual subject areas at GCSE is available, but we know just 15% of LAC gained five or more A*-C GCSEs or equivalent, as opposed to 58% of non-looked-after students. It is hard to escape the conclusion that poor literacy levels are a contributory factor to low attainment at GCSE, and to other poor outcomes for LAC. (Almost 40% of prisoners under 21 were in care as children, for instance).
There is lots that can be done to support and encourage looked-after children’s reading. Making sure they have easy access to books and other reading materials that are interesting and relevant is crucial. It’s one of the things I will be concentrating on in my article. Saving Daisy and its companion book Being Billy are two of my favourite novels featuring young people in care.