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Supporting Children’s Learning

Capstone Foster Care takes the education of children very seriously and we have made it a large factor in our overall mandate to provide the best possible care. To emphasise Capstone’s belief that education is crucial to the future success of our children and young people, our South West Region has an education coordinator, and we also have two teachers who make up part of our North team at Capstone. Their roles are to support learning and education, working alongside supervising social workers, schools and local authorities.

This unified effort is aimed at ensuring the best possible learning experience for the looked after children in our care. The team works at overcoming the barriers to learning that some of our children face. The education team provide advice on education matters to Capstone social workers and carers so that they will be ready and able to provide problem solving when life in school gets tough for their looked after children.

The problem solving is manifested in a variety of ways. It might involve providing support for carers at school or at local authority meetings, providing training for schools and carers, or liaising with local authority colleagues to secure positive outcomes. The education team also monitors our education data so that we have a clear picture of how our children are doing and the progress they are making at school.

Looking at this data is crucial. We need to know how our looked after children are faring in the nation’s schools. Sad to say, they are not faring as well as they could. Their average educational outcomes are considerably lower than their peers who are not from foster homes. By the time these children leave primary school, at the end of Key Stage 2, the achievement gap between looked after children and the general school population is 31%.

As they move through the education system, the gap continues to widen. Only 12% of 16 year old looked after children achieve the expected grades while the over all figure is 52% of all children.

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Education and Looked After Children

One of the most important aspects in preparing for a successful life is education. The better prepared a child is for a fully achieved lifestyle, the more apt that child is to attain a bright future.

Advances in education such as an understanding of the different ways that we learn have opened up news ways of teaching. As a side note, one of the learning style models is the VAK model. Described by New Zealand teacher, Neil Fleming, VAK refers to Visual Auditory Kinesthetic. The idea is that we all have a dominant learning style. Some of us are visual learners and Fleming saw that visual learners either learned through symbols or through reading/writing. He added the R component to come up with VARK.

It’s an interesting and useful way for schools to approach teaching. As we turned to more comprehensive teaching styles, other factors emerged that affect the educational experience for children. If you look at Section 52(1) of the Education Act 2002, you will discover that the head teacher of a maintained school may exclude a pupil from the school for a fixed period or permanently and that the teacher in charge of a pupil referral unit may exclude a pupil from the unit for a fixed period or permanently.

These are a pair of concepts that show the edges of the difficulties that both teachers and students face in the classroom – the teaching style and the discipline style. If you look at the strides in understanding the nuances of how people learn and absorb knowledge and the ways that students can be excluded from the learning experience, you see the challenges children face in the educational landscape.

These are just a couple of the issues in education. It is important to understand how difficult it can be for looked after children to achieve good and positive academic outcomes. Looked after children are twice as likely to be permanently excluded and five times more likely to have a fixed-term exclusion.

After the 2007 white paper, Care Matters: Time for Change, the government made a commitment to provide an annual Personal Education Allowance for looked after children so that they would be able to reach the national expected standards of attainment. This began in 2008. In 2013, the Pupil Premium Plus was implemented. As an indication of what this Pupil Premium Plus means, for 2017, the Pupil Premium Plus grant for looked-after children is £1,900.

The government is committed to providing ways and means to help children achieve their potential. So are we at Capstone Foster Care.

Capstone has always strived for providing the best possible placement for children and young people so that they can have a positive future. We need to finds ways to break the chains of poverty, abuse, addiction, and hopelessness that is so much a part of the path to negative outcomes. Education is a huge component of making this change.

In the North, Capstone’s education team offers a variety of support efforts. We provide training all across the northern region in a range of education-related topics. Here is a quick overview of what we provide:

An introductory course which looks at:

  • the potential barriers to learning for looked after children
  • Personal Education Plans and PEP meetings,
  • Pupil Premium, explaining what the Virtual Schools do,
  • Education Health and Care Plans, and
  • different types of exclusions.

Special training on:

  • Working Memory,
  • Paired Reading,
  • Tackling Bullying, and
  • Homework.

Beyond the training, Capstone has a guide for carers which aims to help carers build confidence about navigating the education field. Armed with the proper information, they will be able to advocate, support, and be wholly involved in the progress of the young student in their care. The guide is a handbook that builds on what the carers have learned in their initial carers’ training. It also helps with specific information on attendance, post-16, internet safety, parents’ evenings, and early years education.

The Capstone North team also works directly with young people in both school and home settings. While the majority of the children that the team assists are in the 9 to 16 year age bracket, the team is also available and able to work with children of all ages.

The team has a wealth of information to offer these students and their carers. It also has collected a wealth of education data on young people and the challenges they face. This data can be used both for reference and to pass on to a new education provision if necessary.

To help see how our efforts to support children’s learning actually work, let’s look at a couple of case studies.

Case Study #1

T has just finished Year 11 at school and our education team has been working with her for an hour or two every week for two and a half years. When they were asked to work with her, they had two areas of focus. One was to provide academic assistance because she had gaps in her knowledge due to poor school attendance in the past. The second focus was to support the school placement because she was absconding from many lessons.

The reason she was having such difficulty attending classes, was due to the emotional turmoil that she’d experienced. The school had been very supportive. She had an excellent relationship with a mentor in the school. Her carers and the school both welcomed the opportunity to have an independent tutor visiting to work with her. The sessions went well. T enjoyed the extra support and a good working relationship developed.

Nine months after the education team began working with her, T moved to another school. This allowed her to have a fresh start and to be nearer to where her carers lived. She still had a few initial problems, but Capstone were able to provide a link between the two schools and provide a familiar face for her.

The familiar face was also beneficial for the new school because it was able to liaise with someone who knew her. Over the next two years, T slowly increased her confidence, both socially and academically. She is now planning to attend college in September 2017. When she does, the education team at Capstone will support this transition and be there to work with her if needed.

Case Study #2

S is a little boy who was placed with B and J when he was five. B and J are very experienced and skilled carers. S settled very well with them. In school, he could settle to work in a one-to-one situation but he found being in a large group very challenging. He struggled to regulate his emotions and responses in the hub-bub of a year 1 class.

The school provided a range of support and yet, his behaviour began to escalate and staff became increasingly concerned. At PEP meetings involving the school, S’s carer B, local authority colleagues and Capstone colleagues, a plan to support him was identified. The plan included referral to other specialist professionals and the provision of a key adult in the school to provide a secondary attachment figure.

This us what the entire coordinated team does – determines the targeted support that the child needs and provides that support. As an example, the school committed to providing a whole school approach for S so that his experience from all adults is consistent.

A few months later, when another meeting was held to review the situation, it was revealed that S had made significant progress and is much more settled in school. He is beginning to articulate his feelings much more clearly and learning to express himself with words rather than actions. We discovered – and so did he – that he especially enjoys maths.

This type of improvement comes from the efforts of all members of the team. His skilled key worker has ‘learned the child’ which gave her a clear understanding of his needs. She is also a champion of the whole school approach and able to ensure that consistency is maintained for him. An assessment for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) is moving forward.

An EHCP describes all the different types of support a child needs as well as who is responsible for providing the support and when the plan will be reviewed to ensure that it is working well. It starts with the local authority and involves all the organisations providing services. The looked after child is asked for input on what he or she hopes to achieve.

When the collective expertise from all groups involved – the school, the local authority and Capstone – comes together to create and carry out a plan, the result is so much better. No one component would have been able to achieve this success on its own.

What Can a Carer Do?

As a carer, there are some things you can do at home to help the children in your care succeed in their educational efforts. One big issue is homework. And our homework advice might seem to be counter-intuitive. We are not going to say, help them with their homework and make sure it gets done on time. Instead, we’re going to say, don’t let homework become an issue.

The reasoning is simple. Homework is a task that should take fifteen minutes or maybe up to an hour. If the child is struggling, doing homework can become a major issue that turns what should be a fifteen-minute chore into a stressful event that affects their whole day from the minute they get home from school until they go to bed.

Suddenly, their home is not a sanctuary where they can unwind from the traumas of a school day. It’s an extension of the stress of school where they may feel like they have to fit into a space where they don’t belong. There is no respite in a home where the spectre of school continues to haunt them.

The carer is not in this predicament alone. The carer should contact the school and discuss the matter with the form teacher or head of year or anyone you have built up a good relationship with. Explain the impact that the homework issue is having on not just the child but on the entire family.

Many schools have homework clubs that the child can attend. Make it a part of the deal with the struggling student that you won’t ‘go on’ about homework if they attend the homework club. This keeps the homework stress out of their sanctuary. If homework causes major anxiety, one solution is to arrange with school that no homework be sent home.

This is one example of how seemingly large issues in the child’s education can be managed in a proactive and positive style. Capstone’s education team is always on hand to help with any concerns. Each child is unique and each child deserves the best possible chance at life.

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