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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Children in care: What works
school assembly
Children in care do not want to be treated differently
Ofsted's report on the schooling of children in local authority care gives examples of things that can help to raise their attainment.

Sharing information between different the agencies involved with the children is one of the keys.

Although the children themselves say they do not want preferential treatment at school, it helps if staff are aware of their circumstances.

"Teachers inevitably cannot be aware of every child's particular problems but a lack of sensitivity to the needs of certain individual pupils can result in the poor management of impeding conflict," the report says.

Thirteen-year-old girl: "Do you wonder I am angry? I've just walked out of a maths exam having sworn at the teacher. When I looked at the paper the figures swam before my eyes.

"I could have done that paper yesterday, I could probably do it tomorrow, but I was put into a children's home last night away from my mother, and with my head in chaos and my stomach in turmoil, I didn't know where to begin".

The teacher administering the exam had not been aware of the situation so was unable to offer support.

Schools need to be aware that the stress and anxiety youngsters suffer when they are taken into care can lead to bad behaviour - but excluding them can make things worse.

Head teacher in Bradford: "We go the extra mile with the children who are looked after. To send them out of school can destroy their foster placement, can leave them roaming the streets.

"We are aware of why they try our patience and therefore work harder to avoid the situation or to make alternative provision within the school."

Having a named teacher to act as a counsellor can work wonders.

Commitment and support

The experiences of many children illustrate the value of parents taking an interest in their children's education - support which is lacking for those in care.

boy with school mentor
Having someone to talk to is valuable
The manager of a children's home catering for six young people aged 13 to 16 saw qualifications as the route to a better future for them.

When one boy insisted on returning to the home after school registration, she drove him back to the school, accompanied him to his lesson and sat with him for the rest of the morning providing support and encouragement.

The school understood the situation and welcomed the initiative. In less than a week the problem was overcome and the pupil was attending regularly.

In another case, a teacher acted as part-time counsellor to a girl who had had five foster homes and spells in children's homes over six years.

The counsellor has helped her to establish herself in a stable foster placement, supported her through an abortion and two suicide attempts, stood by her through periods of rage and despair.

The counsellor was ensuring that all was in place for the girl to take her GCSE exams, in which she was expected to get grade Cs.

Wishlist

What young children themselves say they would like:

  • a school where their educational history and present circumstances are known and understood by teachers
  • an adult in the school who can keep confidences and act as unofficial counsellor
  • teachers who are aware of the fact that the young person is in public care but do not attach a stigma or have under-expectations
  • being treated like anyone else - for example, not having allowances made for bad behaviour or not completing homework, when any other pupil would be in trouble
  • an "escape system" to allow time on their own when the pressure becomes too great
  • continuity of support from a social worker who is interested in school work
  • a foster carer or a member of staff in the children's home to accompany them on the first day in a new school and to attend school events
  • people in children's homes before and after school to provide support for homework and take an interest in school activities
  • remaining in the home area, rather than being moved from the school and sent miles from friends
  • access to a normal range of facilities available to young people who live at home, including a computer.
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See also:

02 Apr 01 | Education
Schools 'failing children in care'
16 Jul 98 | Education
Children in care 'face failure'
29 Apr 00 | Education
Child care 'cuts crime risk'
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