As a teacher I was always frustrated with how to support Looked After Children (LAC) better than I was. I felt as though I lacked information and that I needed to have a greater understanding of how to support them, but at the time I did not know how to gain this.
After working as a primary classroom teacher and then across many schools within behaviour support, I looked at increasing my own knowledge and understanding in this area which led to my EdD research which looked at perceptions and experiences of trainee teachers working with Looked After Children: https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/11028.
LAC continue to underperform academically in comparison to their peers, and for decades have been let down by systems and support, with many entering the criminal justice system at an early age. My study examined trainee teachers’ and mentors’ perspectives and experiences to conclude how specific training could potentially support teachers and, in turn, impact on Looked After Children.
There are currently approximately 70,000 children of school age in the UK that have been ‘looked after’ for 12 months or more. We also need to remember that in addition to the Looked After Children, there are also many more children that are placed with family members or under guardianship orders that may not be included within these statistics, but may present with similar challenges.
While these numbers represent a small fraction of the 11.5 million children in the UK, more than a third of Looked After Children will end up Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET) on leaving school with only 6% of care leavers progressing to university (university participation rate of 38% of the general population).
The long-term impact on these children can be seen in the criminal justice system. Although there are many factors contributing to these outcomes, those that achieve higher educational outcomes are less likely to become part of the criminal justice system. These children are more likely to go on to succeed by establishing a family, work lives and careers.
As we all very well know, the training of teachers compresses a large number of important issues into the generally short course-time available. So, for example, a detailed consideration of the needs of LAC competes with phonics and reading, behaviour management, SEND, subject knowledge, skill development and much, much more in the list of priorities. However, there must be some place for LAC awareness, and therefore this research considered a five-year professional development strategy.
The research gathered information on the experiences and issues trainee teachers and mentors faced when working with LAC, creating a model of development for training and CPD.
The research highlighted the need to provide:
· Training for awareness and understanding on policy and administrative knowledge – such as review and implementation of the Pupil Education Plans (PEPs), Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and funding support and application.
· Challenge to perceptions – challenge trainee perceptions in relation to achievement, expectations and behaviour of LAC.
· Training on supportive strategies for LAC – such as specific behaviour management support and attachment disorder.
· Training for collaborative working – with carers, other teachers, social workers and healthcare professionals.
There will always be a balancing act in teacher training: what is prioritised within the training curriculum, and what centre-based and school-based training includes. However, statistics show that outcomes for LAC are poor, and I think we would all agree that we need to question what we can do further as educational professionals.
Dr Sarah Alix is Programme Director at North Essex Teacher Training. Her latest book, ‘The Foster Carer’s Handbook on Education’, has recently been published with CoramBAAF: : https://corambaaf.org.uk/books/foster-carers-handbook-education