Support for looked after children in care

Advice on how to prevent and reduce school exclusions for students in care. 

Attendance, engagement and exclusion need to be considered together for looked after children. Children in care are three times more likely to be excluded than other children but it is really important to know that many young people in care do well in their education.

What you can do to improve attendance

Children in care are more likely to miss education because of disruption in their lives.

You can help to improve a child in care’s attendance by talking to them and their carer.

You should talk to the young person about:

  • the importance of coming to school.
  • How they feel about going to school.
  • Their ambitions for the future and how being at school will help them with further education or getting a job.

You should tell the young person’s foster carer:

  • who they should contact at school if there are problems at home.
  • To talk to the school about anything that stops the young person from attending.
  • That they must ring the school first thing in the morning if the young person can’t go in.
  • That the setting will contact them if the young person doesn’t arrive at school and you haven’t heard from the carer.

Draw on the expertise of the Virtual Head Teacher in your area

If a young person’s behaviour concerns you, the school should make contact with the Virtual School Head (VSH) for your area who should be informed and involved at the earliest opportunity. In your area, Virtual School Heads will be running programmes to support looked after children.

The VSH will consider what additional assessment and support could be put in place to address the causes of the behaviour and prevent the need for exclusion. This additional support could be additional help for the classroom teacher, one to one therapeutic work or a suitable alternative placement of funding through Pupil Premium Plus. 

Watch out for escalation

Always explore the context and background for emotions, behaviour and communication difficulties

Recently, data has highlighted the rise in exclusions across all pupil groups, including Looked After Children, and the appearance of exclusion ‘ hot spots’ across England, often linked to ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies and a ‘sanctions escalator’ leading, for some of the most vulnerable children, to exclusion and permanent exclusion.

Schools should always make use of alternatives to fixed term exclusions/suspension and make permanent exclusion a last resort.

Placing children in long term alternative education without appropriate mentoring of attendance, attainment, progress and welfare is not advisable. The VSH should be able to help schools review personal education plans for children in care. 

Supporting engagement to avoid exclusion and plan an alternative

Proper engagement by the VSH and the child’s school with the personal education planning process can provide an early warning signal. It is key to spot where the young person's engagement is dropping and allow the risk of exclusion to be better managed before the risk becomes a reality.

The NEU thinks that Head teachers should, as far as possible, avoid excluding any looked-after child. VSHs should try and check that carers and social workers all know where to seek advice and help about their role in supporting engagement with school and positive relationships, and who they can talk to.

No looked after child should be subject to a permanent exclusion before social workers, carers, VSH has had a chance to meet together with the school and concierge alternatives.

The proportion of looked after children with SEND is higher than among the non-looked after cohort and more of those with SEND a have an education health and care plan. The goal should be to coordinate the EHCP With the PEP to describe how the child's holistic needs are being met. Children in care are 10 times more likely to have an EHCP or statement of SEN. 

Emotional health and well being

Around one half of children in care have diagnosable mental health and wellbeing issues. They are more likely to be involved in risk taking behaviours.

The health and emotional well-being of a child has a significant impact on their attainment and progress. Where schools make use of a specific tool to assess emotional health and wellbeing, then the VSH may be well advised to make use of this existing evidence rather than requiring a separate assessment. Some children may have had undiagnosed special needs when they started to be looked after.

A focus on emotional health and wellbeing is recommended within the personal education planning. Staff should be given access to training about the implications of the early abuse or neglect often experienced by looked after children.

Considerations for School Leaders

School leaders take a range of interesting and different approaches to preventing exclusions from school. Research by the RSA (Pinball Kids, Preventing School Exclusions, March 2020) suggests these are the key considerations to action:-

  • How can you strengthen pastoral structures?
  • Can you employ primary- trained specialists in your secondary school?
  • How can you engage other professionals to support your core staff team? Can you co-locate mental health, social care, speech and language therapists and other professionals on site at school bringing their support closer to your staff and pupils?
  • Do you engage carers as partners in education?
  • Do you actively promote diversity within your school?
  • Have you reviewed your behaviour policy with inclusion in mind?

Effects of trauma

The experience of trauma, loss and attachment difficulties can have long lasting effects on how children and young people relate to others, even if these new relationships are safe and positive. These experiences can lead to behavioural, emotional and mental health difficulties.

Trauma has been linked to a number of behaviours which can be challenging in school including lack of emotional control, poor organisational and planning skills, problems with working memory and difficult beginning new activities and transitioning between activities.

None of these are deliberate on the part of the young person. This is not to excuse such behaviours but to seek to explain them. Young people can overcome trauma with support from loving care-givers and an effective, secure, nurturing educational placement.

It is important to raise awareness of the evidence about the impacts of trauma among all school staff but this must be in advance of pressing for specialist training and support for the practitioners working directly with the child.

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