Comment - Strengthening our resolve

16th August 2013 at 01:00

The editorial in TESS on 4 January quoted "young Michael in Kids Talk", who stated: "I think adults sometimes don't stick to what they want to do. They forget their resolutions so quickly because they don't want to do them."

This charge is unfortunately apt for the plight of looked-after children in Scotland. We have all heard the loudly proclaimed resolution to be "corporate parents" and to make the improvement of the life chances of looked-after children a key national priority. But what happens between the rhetoric and reality?

The educational and life chances of looked-after children remain a blight on Scotland. For example, the S4 tariff score of an average non-looked-after child in 2011-12 was 183. A child looked after in a residential setting attained on average 89 tariff points, while those looked after at home attained 70 points.

What is challenging is that, notwithstanding the launch of corporate parenting, we have not seen a significant change in these figures. There are pockets of improvement and it is important to stress that being looked after does not necessarily result in failure. But despite positive anecdotes, the statistics are all too clear.

Nevertheless, there is room for optimism. The psychological health and well-being of these young people is widely being better managed as a precursor to improving attainment.

At my school, after meeting with looked-after students and young carers, it became clear that most did not feel comfortable when their private lives were discussed with up to 20 people. As a result, we introduced an in-house initiative that focuses solely on education and attainment. A senior manager and pastoral staff work closely with young people, and their parents and carers, to celebrate milestones and set targets. Students have found these meetings much less traumatic.

We have also set up supported study classes. Students have found the smaller classes and one-to-one support particularly helpful. Not only has this impacted on attainment but it has also opened up a support network. In addition, we run parenting classes, which should strengthen home, school and community relationships. And we encourage students to take part in extracurricular activities that develop their confidence.

It is too early to definitively measure the benefits of our approach, but anecdotally we are seeing better health and well-being outcomes, improved attendance, reduced exclusions and signs of improving attainment.

There is no magic bullet to eradicate the inequality and disadvantage that many looked-after children suffer. We can, however, narrow the gap between the rhetoric of corporate parenting and the reality of our practice. Building the confidence of a looked-after young person in an environment in which they feel in control and safe is a great start.

Alison Crawford is a depute headteacher at Ardrossan Academy in North Ayrshire.

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