As results day arrives Virtual School Heads around the country will be anxiously awaiting news about how their students have done. With only 14% of looked after children nationally achieving 5 or more A*-C grades, including maths and English, last year, they are not likely to be the results that most headteachers would be hoping for. Each year, however, we are humbled and inspired by all the individual success stories of young people who have done the best they possibly can at the time of the exams, even if this was whilst living in their tenth placement, attending their eighth school, dealing with separation from birth families, recovering from years of abuse and neglect or coming to terms with a bereavement. Of course we want to see better outcomes but first there needs to be a much greater understanding of the circumstances surrounding children in care. This was finally acknowledged in the recently published Ofsted’s Annual Social Care Report,
“These are children whose childhoods have not been like most other children’s… It tells us little to only compare this group of children with children whose lives have been happy and secure.”
The Rees Centre / Bristol University research, ‘The Educational Outcomes of Children Looked After in England’, looks more closely at the class of 2013. It shines a light on the context in which Virtual Schools operate, revealing a range of factors that could lead to even better outcomes. Stability, it emerged, is one of the most important factors required for success. Looked after children who had been in care for more then three years, who attended one school and lived in one placement achieved much closer in line with their peers with 50% gaining 5 A*-C grades, including maths and English. This data offers real hope but the proportion of children in care achieving this level of stability is currently too low.
What The Rees Centre report also highlighted was that almost 40% of the class of 2013 were not in a mainstream school by the time they sat their GCSEs. A proportion with Special Educational Needs were appropriately attending special schools (and virtual school heads have to include the 28% with a statement / EHCP in their data) but many were in Pupil Referral Units where the research discovered they were significantly disadvantaged, achieving the equivalent of 14 grades less than a student with the same profile attending a mainstream school.
With this knowledge we need to really focus our efforts on making mainstream schools work better for children in care so they achieve stability and have the best chance of succeeding. This means staff understanding the impact of trauma and neglect; schools adapting behaviour policies to support children with attachment difficulties; schools investing in support staff that are given time to build strong, supportive relationships and respond to situations flexibly; schools targeting pupil premium to fill gaps in knowledge; and school leaders working in partnership with Virtual School Heads. Then hopefully, some day soon, our results day will become a little bit brighter and looked after children and care leavers will achieve the outcomes they deserve.
Jane Pickthall | NAVSH Vice Chair