Teachers are proposing to set up a pioneering children’s home that they believe will improve the results of pupils in care by giving them time outside mainstream school to catch up academically.
Social workers would live alongside teachers at the Lighthouse, a proposed West London home for 10- to 18-year-olds, partly inspired by elite independent boarding schools like Eton College. The project aims to help close the chasm between the results of children in care and their peers (see graphic, above right), through a spell of intensive residential education before they tackle their GCSEs.
Ed Davison, deputy head of sixth form at Ark Putney Academy in London and one of a team of five Teach First graduates behind the scheme, said: “We looked at the boarding-school model and how successful that has been in terms of education outcomes.”
“I went to a boarding school, so I have some experience about how that education was very effective for me, and that’s useful.”
The project is targeted at children from around the age of 10, who would otherwise be likely to move between a large number of foster families.
Pupils would both live in the home and be educated there – by teachers with experience of children from “challenging backgrounds” and with behavioural or emotional difficulties – for up to three years.
This would allow pupils to catch up academically through a consistent education while benefiting from a “constant and supportive home environment”. Then, from Year 9, they could attend local secondary schools, while continuing to live at the home, and go on to take their GCSEs.
‘Doing as well or better’
Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang, another member of the Lighthouse team, was looked after by foster parents as a child. He said that he was inspired to start the project after seeing the “real problem” with academic attainment for the 93,000 children in care across the UK.
Last year, only 14 per cent of looked-after children achieved five or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 53 per cent of other pupils.
“We want to make sure they do just as well, or better, than those children who are not in care,” Mr Akpan-Inwan, who taught English in a Birmingham secondary for three years, said.
The home would have “a high academic expectation” of the children and “strong links to local schools”. But it would be different from similar initiatives run by charities like Barnardo’s that combined education and social care, added Mr Akpan-Inwang, who now works for Teach First in graduate recruitment.
Charity homes tended to be “more special schools that focus on children with autism or challenging behaviour”, he said. “We are trying to extend the opportunity [of being able to go to university] to everyone.
“People are surprised by how many children grow up in care and their academic achievement. The five of us decided we wanted to get something done and push ahead.”
The group of Teach First graduates has submitted an initial application to the Department for Education and has identified an unnamed site in West London. Mr AkpanInwang is hopeful that the project will be able to link up with local partner schools that would educate the children from Year 9.
He said a headteacher in the area was already keen to support the scheme because they “increasingly have to support children with complex needs and unstable lives”.
“We know the number of children going into care is rising and it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit foster parents,” he added.
The team will talk about their plans at Teach First’s Impact Conference in Leeds next week (see box, left).
If the proposal gets the go-ahead from the DfE this summer, the group will then focus on securing sponsorship and recruiting well-qualified teachers and social workers.
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