Education: a carers' handbook (revised edition)
By Barry Dixon, edited by Katherine Palin; professional adviser Anne Palin
The National Teaching and Advisory Service (www.ntas.org.uk) pound;6.99 for up to nine copies, discounts on bigger orders
This guide for foster carers is one of a series of education handbooks from the National Teaching and Advisory Service: the others are for parents, social workers and residential workers. The context and justification for this one - first published in October 2003 and now expanded and revised in line with legislative changes - is clear in the opening sentence: "Looked after children perform very badly in the school system, usually through no fault of their own."
On the same page, we're given the shocking figures. Nearly 60 per cent of the 60,000 "looked after" children in the UK leave school with no formal educational qualifications (according to TES Time To Care figures the number of children in care is now as high as 65,000). Only one per cent go to university and nine per cent gain five GCSE grades A*-C, compared with half the whole cohort.
It's for others to speculate on the reasons for this. But there's no doubt that part of any attack on this problem must lie in making sure that foster carers know how important support from home is to classroom success. Tim Walker, chief executive of the NTAS, confirms this approach in his foreword. He writes:"Frequently those small numbers of children who do achieve high levels of educational achievement will testify to the significance of their foster carer, who always believed in them, always supported and encouraged them."
When it comes to giving that support, the first essential is a good knowledge of the schools system, and that's where this book, with its straightforward description of the current system in England and Wales, comes in. Its 22 chapters range from "Admissions" and "Types of Schools"
through "Home School Agreements" to "How to Complain". At around two to three pages each, the chapters are short, and the bullet points, highlighted boxes and the rather small typeface means there's a lot of information packed in.
I warmed to this book as I did to its companion volume for parents, and for the same reasons; it's factual and to the point. It's not opinionated, patronising or unnecessarily garlanded with drawings and graphics. In the "help-your-child-at-school" market, that's saying a lot. There's a strong case for making sure every foster carer has a copy. If the local authority can't do that, then surely the school can manage it.