Schooling boost for looked-after children

6th April 2001 at 01:00
Most "looked-after" children find that their experience of education improves after they have been taken into care, according to a study of children in Fife presented at the centenary conference of the British Psychological Society last weekend.

The finding will surprise the Scottish Executive which issued a report last month pointing out that three-quarters of Scotland's 11,000 looked-after children leave school with no qualifications. Jack McConnell, Education Minister, has given local authorities six months to tell him what they are going to do about it.

The latest study was carried out by Whitney Barrett and Graeme King, education psychologists with Falkirk Council. It was based on the views of 64 Fife children aged 5 to 16.

The children "generally indicated they were satisfied with the educational arrangements in place for them". But a third gave a rating of less than five out of 10 when describing how happy they were at school and a quarter were in alternative education for at least part of the time.

Problems cited included lack of consultation over placements and being deprived of extracurricular activities because of the distance of these placements from school.

Improvements proposed include literacy schemes, peer support, anti-bullying strategies, joint social work and education training and the introduction of designaed teachers.

* Praise for the way schools provide "security and a stabilising influence" for psychologically damaged children came from Cynthia Fletcher, a clinical psychologist at Alderhay Hospital in Liverpool, who told the BPS: "Teachers are key people in the lives of these children. But they need to understand the triggers they arelikely to react to. Conditions such as chronic post traumatic stress syndrome could make them react to something very small like smells."

She also warned: "It is better to leave children with abusive parents than to put them into an abusive care system."

* Bright children are more likely to be teased in a school operating mainly mixed-ability groups while the less able are more likely to be teased in a school practising a high degree of streaming, according to a study of the views of children in six primary schools in England carried out by the University of London's Institute of Education.

* The rationale for seating children in groups is fundamentally flawed, Nigel Hastings, professor of education at Nottingham Trent University, told the conference. Studies showed that the time a child spent "on task" went up by 20 per cent to over 80 per cent if classroom furniture was arranged in rows. In one study the work involvement of pupils least likely to stay on task doubled when they sat in rows.

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