The publication in November of The Rees Centre / Bristol University research on The Educational Progress of Looked After Children a seminal moment, as VSHs across the country finally got the evidence they needed to confirm much of what they suspected about what children in care need in order to achieve academically. For years we’d been bemoaning the crude data comparisons between children in care and their peers. “We’re not comparing like with like,” we’d say. We know looked after children have a higher SEN rate, are over represented in non-mainstream provision and are affected by changes in both care and school placements and now we know the scale of the effect these things can have on their outcomes.
We are incredibly grateful to the DfE for recognising that the Statistical First Release on Outcomes for Children Looked After needed to change to better reflect the new dialogue that was taking place. We have been waiting for the data (a little anxiously as it will also be a tool to judge how effectively VSHs are using the Pupil Premium Plus) and can now breathe a partial sigh of relief.
There are many reasons to be cheerful and as part of our push to change the narrative around looked after children we really must celebrate the improvements across the board. At Key Stages 1, 2 and 4 outcomes have improved both in terms of attainment and progress.
The Key Stage 2 data still shows a 28pp gap between children in care and non-looked after children, however, once SEN is taken out of the equation the gap reduces to 8pp. We can also be reassured that within this cohort, children in care with SEN are achieving in line with their peers. This needs to be celebrated! Across the country Virtual Schools, social workers and foster carers are working with primary colleagues to ensure Pupil Premium Plus is targeted effectively and children get the support they need. There has been a 10pp improvement in the number of children in care achieving Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths since 2012, when Pupil Premium was introduced.
Key Stage 4 is a slightly different story. We should celebrate the fact that the proportion of children in care achieving 5 or more GCSEs or equivalent A* – C grades including Maths and English has increased from 12% to 14%, and that this has happened at a time when early entries and vocational qualifications no longer bring the benefits they once did for looked after children. The SEN breakdown at KS4 doesn’t show much of an improvement with the gap still being 32pp, however how much better does 32% of children in care (with no identified SEN) achieved 5 or more A*-C or equivalent at GCSE sound? Or how about 50% of children in care for 3 or more years, who experienced no placement moves, achieved 5 or more GCSEs or equivalent A* – C grades including Maths and English?
Most VSHs will tell you that there is further work to do around the KS4 data. Thanks to The Rees Centre we now know that attending a PRU equates on average to the equivalent of a reduction of 14 GCSE grades (when compared to pupils with the same characteristics) with one of the most shocking findings of the research being that almost 40% of the 2013 GCSE cohort the research was based on did not attend a mainstream school. We know that many of this cohort entered care as teenagers and that this too reduces the chance of educational success. Many were living in residential children’s homes, another inhibitive factor… you get the picture.
Whilst we’re pleased to see these changes to the SFR, the work to improve the narrative goes on. NAVSH, ADCS, the DfE and NCER are now working to improve the database to include more of the information we need, to not only improve the narrative but also improve those outcomes.
Jane Pickthall | NAVSH Vice Chair