Pupils in crisis

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Britain has a poor record in educating children in care. Until recently, many local education authorities did not keep records or statistics on how well looked-after youngsters were performing in school. The Government, meanwhile, set a target of one top-grade GCSE for children in care, compared with five for the rest of the school population.

The message is clear: expectations of these children are remarkably low.

Fewer than 100 of the 65,000 looked-after children get to university each year. Just 6 per cent gain five or more high grades at GCSE, and more than half leave school without a single qualification.

At the same time, figures show that a quarter of all adults in prison had been in care for at least part of their childhood.

In an attempt to secure a better deal for children in care, The TES has launched its Time to Care campaign. It aims to raise awareness of the plight of these pupils and to put pressure on local authorities and ministers to do something about the high levels of underachievement among the nation's most vulnerable youngsters.

nAlways treat children in care as you would any other pupil. They have a right to the same education and opportunities as everyone else. Don't draw attention to them by making them feel different.

* Be discreet and let pupils decide who knows about their situation, and how much they know. They probably won't want everyone in the class to be aware that they are in care. Respect their cover story if they explain why they don't live with their families.

* Be sensitive - looked-after children are likely to have had difficult experiences when young that can have an impact on their behaviour. There may be topics discussed in class that they find difficult to cope with.

* Make sure you know who in your school is the designated teacher for children in care, and liaise with them on the progress of your pupils. Make sure you report any problems or concerns so they are dealt with promptly.

* Never promise to keep secrets. Allow the child to confide in you if you have built up trust, but make clear that you may need to seek help and information from others. Do not attempt to solve their problems alone and without appropriate advice. At the same time, reassure them that any action you take is always with their best interests in mind.

* Always have high expectations. Looked-after children may have moved around and had a disrupted education, but they can catch up and do as well as any other child. Remember: succeeding at school can be their path out of a life of disadvantage.

* Don't assume they are in care because they have been bad or disruptive.

Many will have suffered personal tragedy such as bereavement, neglect and abuse. They will need your patience and understanding.

* Children in care can be vulnerable and prone to bullying because they are seen by classmates as different. Look out for physical signs, such as bruising, as well as changes in mood and performance at school. Listen out for teasing and name-calling.

* Those living in homes may share bedrooms with two or more other children.

Talk to your headteacher about providing supervision and a quiet place in school for them to do their homework after lessons.

* Meet carers and guardians regularly to keep informed of any domestic problems that may affect pupils' progress, and for you to air any concerns.

Find out who to contact in an emergency.

* Be clear on the role of foster carers and aware that the child will also have a birth family who cannot, for whatever reason, look after them.

* Every looked-after child will have a care plan, a personal education plan and, if they are aged between 15 to 17, a pathway plan. These are constantly reviewed. Find out what is in them so you know what your responsibilities are as a teacher.

* Children in care may turn to you for advice on exams and career opportunities if they feel they have no one else to turn to. Find out what their interests and aptitudes are. A string of GCSEs may not be the best route. If you can't help them, find people who can, such as the Connexions (career counselling) service.

* Be aware that other professionals, such as social and youth workers, doctors and police officers, may be involved in the pupil's life. Good communication between the school and these agencies is vitally important for the welfare of the child.

* Keep an up-to-date list of contacts and organisations you can turn to for professional advice and help about the looked-after children in your class.

These should include police and social services, as well as foster families, residential homes and any other adults involved in their welfare.

Ask them to keep you aware of any problems that may affect the child's academic performance or behaviour.

Useful numbers

Online Informationwww.rhrn.thewhocarestrust.org.ukwctuseroiindex.jsp NSPCC Tel: 020 7825 2500; www.nspcc.org.uk

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Tel: 020 7510 7000; email: webenquiries@ cafcass.gov.uk

The Child Bereavement Trust Tel: 0845 357 1000; enquiries@childbereavement.org.uk Children's Legal Centre Tel:01206 872 466; www.childrenslegalcentre.com

Action for Prisoners' Families

Tel: 020 8812 3600

The Time to Care campaign aims to highlight the problems of children in care inside and outside school. By starting a debate about how to improve the attainment of looked-after children, The TES hopes to help increase the proportion who leave school with good qualifications. The guidelines (right) offer useful advice and pointers if you have such children in your class.

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