The joint DfES/DH guidance Education of Children and Young People in Public Care (May 2000) recommended that schools assign a senior member of staff as designated teacher to act as a champion for looked after children. A new guide for school governors on their role in helping schools support these children will be helpful to SENCOs in defining the designated teacher role and offering useful information and explanations about what ‘looked after’ means.

This guidance is provided for school governors and senior managers. Each section deals 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. It sets out the key problems and challenges that the governing body may face when considering looked after children.

The sections which SENCOs are likely to find most relevant to their involvement are those on the role of the designated teacher, special educational needs and the definitions of ‘looked after’ and being in care.

Designated teachers The guidance points out that the role of designated teacher for looked after children sits alongside that of the designated teacher for child protection and the SENCO. It reminds governors that it is vital that sufficient time is made available in the timetable to ensure all these staff can undertake their duties properly. It notes that ‘it should not be assumed that the SENCO is the right person for the role of designated teacher for looked after children’.

Specific duties of 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. Designated teachers are responsible for: receiving Personal Education Plans from social workers and coordinating the development of the plan; providing a central point of contact for all professionals working with each looked after child.

Special educational needs Over a quarter of looked after children have a statement of special educational needs and many more are likely to need extra help at school to meet special educational needs and to make up for lost school time. Sometimes their special educational needs are overlooked or support is delayed. This can be: because learning difficulties are attributed to their social and emotional circumstances or when frequent moves disrupt assessments and provision of support.

Active parents alert schools to problems, help set and review targets and back up school support at home. Carers may need extra information and support, particularly if they have no experience of the SEN process. When governors review the school’s SEN policy they should ensure that carers and social workers are routinely involved and engaged with the process, particularly during statutory assessment, reviews of Individual Education Plans and annual reviews of statements.

Frequent questions
Who is ‘looked after’ and why?

At any one time around 39,000 children of school age are in the care system. For most children, care is intended to be time limited with the aim of returning home as soon as possible. Although there are many reasons why children are looked after by local authorities, they are all likely to have undergone distressing experiences. Some are children who enter the country as unaccompanied minors and who are seeking asylum. All children who are looked after have distinct backgrounds, identities, aspirations and particular needs. Only a very small percentage of children enter care because of their own behaviour.

What does being ‘in care’ mean? Many looked after children are subject to care orders. This means that the local authority has gone to court to assume parental responsibility because the child has suffered or is likely to suffer ‘significant harm’. Although children on care orders can live with a parent, most are cared for away from their families. Even then contact with their families can be frequent. Schools should note that contact sessions with parents can sometimes be traumatic for children, and their behaviour may be adversely affected the next day. A child’s care plan will detail the way roles and tasks concerning their education and other aspects of a child’s life will be shared between carers, parents, and school. Some children who are not subject to care orders are accommodated by councils with the agreement of their parents.

Some children are placed many miles from their family environment. This may be to protect them from harm in their home area, due to the need for special health or educational provision, or because of the shortage of appropriate local foster care placements. This can leave a child feeling vulnerable and isolated through loss of friendships and receiving less support because of communication difficulties between the placing and receiving local authorities.

Why do looked after children often underachieve? Looked after children as a group are no less able than their peers, but they often underachieve. Sometimes they fall behind through missing school. This can occur on entry into the care system, when placements in foster care or children’s homes break down, or because of difficulties in obtaining a school place. They are also more likely to be excluded from school. Other reasons for underachievement include damaging experiences they may have undergone prior to entering care, lack of coordinated educational support or inadequate facilities for study in their care placement – perhaps because carers and others have low expectations for them. Sometimes there can be difficulties accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – even though this support can be critical in enabling looked after children to benefit from learning opportunities.

The guidance includes an extensive and informative list of relevant publications on inclusion, pastoral support, behaviour and bullying and other aspects of the role of the school in supporting looked after children.

l Supporting looked after learners: a practical guide for school governors

You can download this publication or order copies online at: www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications.

Copies can also be obtained from: DfES Publications PO Box 5050 Sherwood Park, Annesley, Nottingham NG15 0DJ

Tel: 0845 60 222 60.

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