The vulnerable group of looked-after children (LAC) has had particular focus recently, in terms of raising their educational aspirations and achievement

With the introduction of the Children and Young Person’s Act in November 2008, all schools are legally required to have a designated teacher for looked-after pupils and, as a SENCO, you probably also have responsibility for these vulnerable children. This issue, we provide an overview of your responsibilities in this respect.

Support for SENCOs
Your specific duties as the designated teacher will vary depending on the number of looked-after children in the school and the circumstances and needs of each individual child. But all designated teachers are responsible for receiving and reviewing personal education plans (from social workers), coordinating the development of the plan and providing a central point of contact for all professionals working with each looked-after child. In addition, you should aim to ensure that senior managers in school:

  • ensure they have an overview of the educational needs and progress of looked-after children
  • review school policies from the point of view of looked-after children
  • allocate resources to match priorities for looked-after children
  • compare the performance of LAC with their peers
  • identify ways of raising the attainment of looked-after children in the school improvement plan
  • have a policy that encourage collaboration with other agencies and services, eg, health professionals, CAMHS, school attendance services
  • provide professional development for all staff in contact with vulnerable children
  • provide the LA with data on attendance, attainment and exclusions of LAC.

On a more practical and day-to-day basis, you will be acting as champion for looked-after children and considering how to:

  • settle newly arrived LAC in to school – especially during mid-term
  • share sensitive information about individual looked-after children with relevant staff members, and putting safeguards in place (remembering that some children will not want teachers to know about their situations)
  • liaise with foster carers, residential children’s homes and social services to ensure that the school has relevant information about a child’s care history
  • communicate with a child’s carers about his or her achievements and needs, setting up good links which are supportive to both child and carer
  • ensuring all looked-after pupils have an up-to-date personal education plan, and that they are able to contribute to it
  • maintain an overview of their changing needs and progress.

Over a quarter of looked-after children have a statement of SEN (they are nine times more likely than their peers to have a statement of special needs) and many more are likely to need extra help at school to meet their learning needs and to catch up lost school time. Sometimes the special educational needs of a looked-after child are overlooked or support is delayed because learning difficulties are attributed to their social and emotional circumstances, or frequent moves are responsible for disrupting assessments and provision of support. This obviously leads to a worsening situation, so be alert to the possibility and assess a child’s needs as soon as possible, feeding this information into a personal education plan (PEP) which:

  • sets clear objectives for the child, relating to academic achievement and personal and behavioural targets – both in and out of school
  • identifies who will be responsible for carrying out the actions agreed in the plan, with timescales for action and review
  • records all achievements (academic and otherwise)
  • identifies development needs and sets short and long term targets.

A child’s social worker will be involved (or take the lead) in drawing up the plan, so it is important to liaise with social services as soon as possible after the child joins your school. The PEP is particularly useful at times of transition (primary to secondary school, or from one setting to another) as it enables information to move quickly with the child, so that she or he can be placed appropriately and provided with appropriate support. It’s important to involve the child (where possible) in putting together a PEP, and in regular reviews.

While looked-after children are no more or less able than the general population, their educational success is extremely low. They are more likely than other pupils to be excluded from school; SATs scores tend to be low and approximately 11% of these pupils achieve a minimum of five good GCSEs, compared with around 50% of all young people – only 1% go on to university. Six out of 10 children leave care without a single educational qualification. They are more likely to be unemployed when they leave school, become pregnant as teenagers, use drugs or go to prison. The NCH reports that about 20% of homeless people are care-leavers. Recent legislation has attempted to address these issues and several factors are recognised as contributing to the success of these learners:

  • stable and consistent care
  • early reading
  • regular school attendance
  • support from well-informed foster carers
  • having a mentor
  • understanding the importance of education for future life-chances
  • financial support for further and higher education. Personal education allowances are available for all looked-after children at risk of not reaching expected standards of attainment to provide additional support for their education. Visit: www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/socialcare/childrenincare/educationalachievement

School governors are responsible for ensuring their schools are not neglecting the welfare and educational needs of children in care in their schools and you should provide them with regular reports on the progress made by these pupils (see resource below).

Resources
The government has published a guidance document, Supporting Looked-after Learners – A Practical Guide for School Governors (2006), designed to help school governing bodies ensure that their schools’ policies and practices are fully inclusive of the needs of looked-after children. The guidance is divided into sections, each dealing with a phase or area in a child’s life where being looked-after may require the school’s governing body to consider what action it may need to take. Each section sets out the key problems and challenges that looked-after children, schools and the governing body may face. It offers practical advice, a set of key questions and a number of case studies that will help governing bodies and their schools to develop and implement policies and procedures that will be inclusive of looked-after children and ensure that they will fulfil their potential.

The Who Cares? Trust has a range of publications about supporting looked-after children which cover planning, moving school, bullying, staying in school and going to university.

The Who Cares? TrustKemp House152-160 City Road,LondonEC1V 2NP

Tel: 020 7251 3117

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.

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