As the start of the new school term looms, along with the many challenges our children face with all the changes to people, routines etc, there are two new documents published by the Department for Education that are extremely relevant to previously looked-after children. Both of these have the potential to influence how schools work with previously looked-after children and their families.
The two documents are:
In this blog I will explore the main aspects of these documents in relation to previously looked-after children, what parents need to know, and what schools should be doing.
I will begin with the Designated Teacher for looked-after and previously looked-after children – statutory guidance (February 2018)
This guidance is a completely updated and more thorough version of the 2009 guidance that was written in relation to looked-after children in schools. The 2018 version published in February now also includes what schools need to do to support the needs of previously looked-after children (adoption, special guardianship or child arrangement order).
This is a huge step forward in improving awareness and understanding about some of the issues previously looked-after children face in school. There is a lot of information in the 50 page guidance and although there are some big sections that only relate to looked after children, I would encourage all parents / carers of previously looked-after children to read the full document in order to get a good understanding of it.
Here are some of the main points:
• The guidance is statutory – meaning that schools MUST have regard to it
• It requires all schools to have a designated member of staff who will take responsibility for promoting the achievement of previously looked-after children; this person should be appropriately experienced and be in a senior position and able to influence whole school decisions; they should also receive regular training and make sure other staff are trained
• The guidance recognises that previously looked-after children are likely to have significant barriers to their learning
• Social, emotional and academic needs are suggested as a priority in meeting the needs of previously looked-after children
• There are suggestions on how Pupil Premium Plus could be used (beyond closing the achievement gap)
• The importance of involving parents in decisions about their child’s education and forging good home-school links is recognised; this includes involvement about how pupil premium plus is spent – while recognising that it is not a personal budget. (You may wish to also read my Blog: Pupil premium – Why it can sometimes be difficult to get the right support for adopted children in schools
• The importance of relationships between staff and pupils and the importance of enabling children to have voice is identified.
• There is recognition that previously looked-after children are more likely to have special educational needs and mental health needs
• Direction is given for schools to put in the right support so as to avoid exclusion of a previously looked-after child becoming necessary.
• Introduces the new requirement for Virtual School Heads (VSH) to make information and advice available to parents and schools in relation to previously looked after children.
Often it is trauma related difficulties that mean our children find many aspects of school difficult and if the right support is not in place or issues are not dealt with in the correct way things can often quickly escalate. The guidance is clear about schools needing to ensure sufficient flexibility in their behaviour policy to meet the needs of previously looked-after children.
This is a massive step and schools will now have to demonstrate how they are responding to the needs of our children ‘in the most effective way’.
The way in which ‘behaviour’ is dealt with in schools is so important for our children in helping them feel safe, secure and to avoid being driven into shame. Hopefully, there can be a focus for schools in light of this guidance to reflect on their current approaches to behaviour and make some positive attachment and trauma informed changes to their policies.
In addition to behaviour, the document also states that:
“The needs of looked-after and previously looked-after children may have implications for almost every school policy and consideration may want to be given to ensure that policies are effective in reflecting their needs.” Paragraph 7
This is huge for schools and for making sure previously looked-after children’s needs are met across a broad range of aspects of education.
Some of the policy and areas that the guidance highlights for consideration are:
• expected or better levels of progress over the past twelve months in line with their peers (i.e. educational, social and emotional progress);
• patterns of attendance and exclusions;
• whether the school’s policies are sensitive to their needs;
• gifted and talented and how those needs are being met;
• additional safeguarding challenges of which the school’s designated safeguarding lead should be aware;
• special educational needs (SEN) and whether those needs are being identified and met at the appropriate level;
• mental health needs and whether those needs are being identified and met;
• whether the school’s behaviour management policy is sufficiently flexible to respond to looked-after and previously looked-after children’s challenging behaviour in the most effective way for those children;
• how the teaching and learning needs of looked-after and previously looked-after children are reflected in school policies, in particular in relation to interventions and resources;
• what impact Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) has in supporting the educational achievement of looked-after and previously looked-after children.
As you can see, the guidance is far reaching and it is now down to schools to be looking at these areas and making sure training is in place and any changes needed to meet the needs of the children are implemented.
There are however a few assumptions in this document which are not helpful for parents or schools:
• The guidance asks for schools to draw upon services such as CAMHS and educational psychologists – but as we all know as parents and I certainly do as a headteacher – these services are often either overstretched, children don’t meet the ‘threshold’, or there are huge waiting lists.
• The guidance states that ‘all looked after and previously looked-after children will have a wide range of support mechanisms that will assist in promoting their educational achievement’. Many of us will know that we ourselves are often the ones that have to seek out and get support and these are often difficult to access.
I know many VSHs are actively looking at the new requirements they have by putting on training for schools and designated teachers. In June I spoke at the West Midlands Virtual Schools Conference about the needs of adopted children and what the virtual schools could practically do to develop practice in schools, and I am already aware of many VSHs organising / already provided training for the designated teachers.
From September 2018 grant funding will be received by local authorities in England to help them meet their new duties in relation to previously looked after children. The amount of funding per year is in the region of £30-50 thousand per local authority so I would expect some specific action to be taken from September, if not already done, to ensure schools understand the new guidance and are supported, along with parents.
Overall, this guidance document is useful, but is only one aspect in trying to get the attachment and trauma drum heard across the school system. It’s down to all of us working in and around schools to keep the sticks beating until everyone not only hears it but makes changes to meet the needs of our children.
It is a positive step towards the recognition of the needs of adopted children and is a platform for change. It is good to have a school document that contains words such as: attachment, executive functioning skills, shame and mental health.
Top tips for schools:
– Read the full guidance and identify areas that are not currently in place: Annex 1 offers really useful questions to review current practice.
– Make sure there is a named designated teacher and ensure the name and contact details are on your website and in your prospectus.
– Consider what provision is in place for supporting ALL adopted children including those who may be more able.
– Make sure the designated teacher and all staff receive training. (Please get in touch if you would like to discuss the training I can offer.)
– Review policies and procedures to ensure they reflect the needs and challenges of adopted children. (You may wish to read my blog about: How schools can become attachment and trauma friendly – a 3 step plan.
– Make contact with the VSH and find out what services they offer.
Tip for parents:
There is so much information fed into schools on a daily basis that you should not make the assumption that schools know or have read this new guidance. So awareness raising of the existence of this guidance is a good place to start.
How you approach your child’s school with this information really depends on the type of relationship you have with them. You will know best how to do this but here are some general ideas.
• Contact the main person you already have a link with (SENCO / Pastoral lead etc) and explain that you have read this new guidance and wanted to share it – just in case they hadn’t seen it yet.
• Enquire who the designated teacher is and if this is someone you don’t usually have contact with arrange a meeting with them to discuss aspects related to your child that are covered in the guidance e.g. flexibility with homework.
• Build a partnership with the designated teacher and email them any resources you find that might be helpful. Remember the designated person is likely to have a whole host of other roles and responsibilities so may be happy for you to share useful resources with them.
• Send the chair of governors the link to the guidance; this may initiate them asking about how the school is responding to the guidance.
• You could contact the virtual school head from your area and ask them what support they can offer the school, and if they are running any training which they could invite the school to attend.
There is increasing support and information about meeting the needs of adopted children in schools which will enable parents to increasingly be heard and understood. It will continue to be a struggle for some parents in schools that are not quiet there yet – but I believe change is coming and I am confident that this will change the educational landscape, not only for our children but for all children.
This guidance gives schools a clear framework to explore and reflect on their current practices. It also enables parents to ask the right questions about the schools provision and support, and hold schools to account if they are not meeting the needs of their child.
The Second publication is:
Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018)
This is the main safeguarding document that schools really take note of and ensure that they meet the requirements of it, as failure to do so can lead to significant consequences for the school in terms of OFSTED inspection outcomes.
In terms of previously looked-after children the guidance states:
“A previously looked after child potentially remains vulnerable and all staff should have the skills, knowledge and understanding to keep previously looked after children safe. When dealing with looked after children and previously looked after children, it is important that all agencies work together and prompt action is taken when necessary to safeguard these children, who are a particularly vulnerable group.” (Point 95)
And point 96:
“Governing bodies of maintained schools and proprietors of academies must appoint a designated teacher and should work with local authorities to promote the educational achievement of registered pupils who are looked after. On commencement of sections 4 to 6 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, designated teachers will also have responsibility for promoting the educational achievement of children who have left care through adoption, special guardianship or child arrangement orders or who were adopted from state care outside England and Wales. The designated teacher must have appropriate training and the relevant qualifications and experience. In other schools and colleges, an appropriately trained teacher should take the lead.”
This is particularly useful paragraph as it puts this duty of the school governing body!
You may wish to send the chair of governors the link to this guidance in order for them to ensure the school is implementing the requirements or at least questions are being asked.
The section about virtual school heads (section 98) includes: “The designated teacher should also work with the virtual school head to promote the educational achievement of previously looked after children.”
This backs up and links to the designated teacher guidance.
It is my hope that these two documents give additional weight and justification to the many people (parents, social workers, schools workers, virtual schools, psychologists and many more) around Britain who are working hard to ensure the needs of previously looked after children are understood and trying to ensure that all schools can develop their understanding and make positive steps in meeting the specific needs of this group of children.