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Primary and Secondary Education

Outcomes for looked after children in education are poorer than their peers, and the gap gets wider as children get older. Unfortunately, sometimes being in care can have a negative impact on children’s education. Frequent placement and school moves, or being taken out of school regularly for meetings will all impact on a child’s confidence and ability to learn. Traumatic experiences before entry into care can also cause difficulties, which may affect a child’s behaviour, self-esteem or trust in authority figures.

Children in care can face practical challenges when it comes to attending school. They might have to take time out of lessons to go to reviews, like their care plan review or their Personal Education Plan (PEP) review, or to meet their social worker or Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). They also might change schools more often than other children, either because they move schools when their placement changes or because they have been excluded from school.

A large number of children in care have special educational needs, which may be linked to emotional and behavioural difficulties rooted in their pre-care experiences and the disruptions they experience while in care. These children will need extra support at school and from their carers, but not all carers know how to meet these additional needs. Sometimes special educational needs are masked by children’s behaviour – teachers may not recognise that a child is behaving badly to disguise their struggles with learning.

Children in care are supported by a variety of professionals at school. ‘Designated teachers’ in schools are responsible for the educational achievement of children in care. Similarly, Virtual School Heads are responsible for the educational achievement of all looked after children in the local authority and provide support to schools and carers.

Virtual School Heads are also in charge of spending the Pupil Premium Plus. This is extra money that schools get for looked after children and must be used to improve outcomes identified in the child’s Personal Education Plan (PEP). The PEP is part of a child’s care plan and is reviewed twice a year. It sets out what needs to happen to make sure that a child achieves at school. The Pupil Premium Plus doesn’t have to be spent on academic outcomes; it can help support children to learn and develop their interests in other ways, like music lessons or participation in sport.

 

Further education

Lots of children in care and care leavers go on to further education. This may be to retake GCSEs to help them go on to university, while for others they may study shorter vocational courses, or do apprenticeships. Getting the right advice about what to study is really important, and social care staff may not fully understand the wide variety of options and routes that young people can take.

Young people leave care between 16 and 18, at the age they are likely to be in further education. Leaving care can be a very stressful time. It can be very difficult to keep focussed on college commitments when living independently for the first time. Suddenly young people have to juggle paying bills and rent, running a house, bringing in enough money to live on and coping with loneliness - all while completing homework and studying for exams. They may need extra time off to deal with household emergencies too.

Accessing apprenticeships can be harder for care leavers, often because they require qualifications that they don’t have (such as 5 GCSEs at A-C) or because the salary is so low that they can’t financially support themselves. Further education is also something that care leavers may access when they are older than 18. Many people with experience of care return to education later to get the qualifications that they weren’t able to get when they were younger.

 

Higher education

We don’t know how many care leavers go on to get university degrees, as care leavers often go on to university later in life. However, we do know that very few care leavers go to university at the same age as their peers. This may be because it takes care leavers longer to get the qualifications they need to go on to higher education. It may also be because they think that university is not for them, or because they are afraid of taking on high levels of debt.

As well as making decisions about what university to go to and what they want to study, care leavers also have to think about where they’re going to live and how they are going to support themselves. Although the local authority has a duty to support care leavers while they are at university, care leavers often struggle financially and have to have part time, or even full time jobs alongside studying. Care leavers may have to make decisions about where to go based on accommodation – they may feel that they have to attend a local university if they already have their own tenancy, because they may be worried if they give it up, they won’t have somewhere to live when they leave university