Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by School-Home Support


    —  Throughout our evidence School-Home Support advocates the early identification, intervention and prevention of problems. We illustrate the effectiveness of our approach with evidence from our work in schools.

    —  Our recommendations pertain to family and parenting support, improving attendance and reducing exclusions.

    —  We recommend that the most vulnerable children, young people and parents/carers form a consistent and trusting relationship with an un-timetabled, trained and independent professional who liaises between the home and the school.

    —  We recommend that a school home link worker is essential for the Designated Teacher to deliver the role in its entirety.

    —  We recommend that the best practice arises from a whole-school approach to improving attendance and reducing exclusions in which the role of a school home link worker supports the vulnerable young person and his/her parents/carers.


  School-Home Support (SHS) works with disadvantaged, vulnerable and disaffected children to help them overcome the barriers that get in the way of their learning. We provide independent, highly-trained workers in schools. Across SHS, specialist support is provided in the following areas:

    —  school attendance and punctuality;

    —  transition;

    —  curriculum support; and

    —  supporting for families/carers.

  SHS currently has workers in 150 schools in 13 London boroughs, five local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber, and new work starting in Darlington and Nottingham. We were also commissioned by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham to deliver their Parent Support Advisers pilot in 28 local schools.

  Our workers regularly support children in care in schools, and we also run a specialist pilot project funded by the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) for looked-after children in the London Borough of Southwark, City of York and the East Riding of Yorkshire. This project, running from July 2006 to July 2009, is delivering the following kinds of support to looked after children across a local authority area:

    —  Support with school organisation and study skills.

    —  Specific support with literacy or numeracy.

    —  Help to manage in the classroom and/or playground.

    —  Development of positive peer relations and friendships.

    —  Work on behaviour and anger management.

    —  Support to attend and participate in after-school activities.

    —  Emotional support.

  The pilot project is being independently evaluated and as well as measuring improved outcomes for looked after children and their carers receiving support, the evaluation is also attempting to measure the "added value" of a project led by a voluntary organisation rather than by the local authority. Much of the evidence provided in this submission is based on the interim evaluation findings of this project.


1.  Family and Parenting Support

  1.1  One of the key recommendations of the Care Matters: Time for Change strategy for local authorities is that they should improve their support for parents and carers in order to help children to stay with their families, which is what they want. Early intervention is a fundamental part of this strategy and a key principle of SHS's work. Our approach recognises that children may experience a range of needs at different times in their lives and all children require access to high quality universal services.

  1.2  SHS endorses the recommendation that support has to be sophisticated (Para 2.2) and include "intensive interventions where family difficulties are complex and enduring". In both our core work, developed over nearly 25 years of working in schools, and in our specialist project we see some children who are at higher risk of poor outcomes. These children with additional needs receive targeted support from services such as education, health, social services. It is at this point that the School-Home Support worker (SHSw), in partnership with the school where they are based, is able to offer interventions that can respond to those additional needs. If this response takes places at an early enough stage this prevents their situation deteriorating.

  1.3  "Parents in the general population with lower levels of difficulty wanted services to be accessible, professional, responsive and respectful" (Para 2.17). These are often the parents/carers that SHSws and Parent Support Advisers (PSAs) often work with. Key to our approach is building a mutually respectful relationship—a partnership. From this basis we are able to work in a supportive, albeit challenging, way. We focus on the strengths the parent/carer brings and on building their resources.[1]

  With a mutually respectful relationship in place we can tackle difficult issues together, offering and supporting parents in options and choices to resolve them—doing things with them, not to them. We recognise that many parents have had poor experiences of parenting themselves and do need to learn strategies and skills to ensure their children have the opportunity to achieve their potential. To get the best results we focus on what is important to them, while making sure that the needs of their children are being addressed.

  1.4  We use a wide range of strategies and models, selecting the most appropriate for the particular situation. We concentrate on trying to find a favourable balance between stressful life events and protective resources. Examples of our approaches:

    —  Decreasing exposure to adversity—risk orientated approaches: these can include keeping safe programmes; how to deal with bullying; prevention of teenage pregnancy.

    —  Augmenting protective factors using asset based approaches eg school readiness programme; friendship groups; breakfast clubs; parenting groups; transition programmes.

  Our response to the needs of children and their families is based on their needs, we can respond creatively and flexibly because of our non-statutory role.

  1.5  An outcome of our project is "for carers of looked after children to be better able to support their child's learning in a consistent and sustained way". The evaluators have found after one year that:

    "SHS workers can play an important role in liaising between the carers and school and between the carers and social services. One foster carer described the SHS worker as acting as a `bridge' with both teachers and social services".

2.  Education

  2.1  Typically, in our pilot project "the children and young people are receiving one-to-one input from SHSws either in school or at home. This is usually for one hour per week or fortnight, occasionally twice a week" (Project Evaluation, McNeish D and Percy-Smith J, 2007).

  2.2  Schools valued the "consistency and reliability" of the SHSws. The evaluators found that effective communication is vital where the SHSw is only one of many professionals involved with the child.

  One case study noted that one of the children in the project:

    "|has made good progress in relation to reading, one of the issues that the SHS intervention was designed to address. His recent school report was very good with good scores for effort and behaviour; he has not been excluded at all."

  Another case study, about twin boys, notes:

    "(the) boys have made good progress and, if the current rate of progress continues, they should be on track to achieve level 4 in all subjects at key stage 2. Perhaps more significantly is the fact that when they arrived at the school they were at risk of exclusion; now that is not the case. The SHS worker has worked to find solutions to particular problems. For example a number of behavioural issues arose because the boys found it hard to behave appropriately when faced with unstructured time such as school lunch break. As a result the SHS worker organised for them to attend a lunch club. The SHS worker has actively supported the foster carers both in their dealings with the school and with the social worker especially over contact arrangements with the mother."

  2.3  Our evaluators have identified the problem of multiple professional involvement in the care of looked after children and SHS believes that when the role of Designated Teacher put onto a statutory footing this may help to address the problem (see point 2.2).

  The SHSw could have an important role in supporting the Designated Teacher. This could include carrying out some of the suggested duties (eg Home-school links) as recommended by Dame Pat Collarbone's working group.

  The SHSw is well placed to be the member of staff recommended in Para 4.41 "who is able to coordinate a package of support that best helps that pupil" because he/she may well have the best relationship with both the child and the parent or foster carer. Our evaluation report found that: "a number of case study children commented on how much they enjoyed their time with their SHS worker" however the evaluation also noted "it takes time to build up the trusting relationships needed for the work to make a difference to outcomes".

  2.4  Our evaluation report found that "where the relationship between the School Home Support worker (and the school) is effective then the feedback from the school has been extremely positive". In one of the case studies the input from the SHSw was described as "invaluable". The report says: "Effective communication is often easier within the primary school setting; in the larger and more complex environment of the secondary school this can be more of a challenge but can be facilitated where there is a specific liaison teacher|with whom the SHS worker can liaise".

3.  Attendance and Exclusions

  3.1  Increasing attendance and reducing exclusions are areas of specific expertise for SHS. Our experience shows that strategies for addressing these issues are at their most effective when they a part of a whole-school policy with whole school (all staff) commitment, rather than targeting specific groups of vulnerable children (ie looked after children). Some of the whole-school strategies our SHSws use are:

    —  Ongoing monitoring of registers, "meeting and greeting" in the playground, and tackling late arrivals.

    —  1st day of absence home contact.

    —  Talking directly to older children about issues of attendance.

    —  Running attendance clubs for younger children, including the use of certificates, cups and other rewards given at assemblies for improvement.

    —  Congratulations letters to parents and carers, no matter how small the progress.

  3.2  SHS is working in partnership with the London Borough of Islington, where the primary schools in 2005-06 had the highest rate of absenteeism in the country: 7.3%, compared to an average of 5.6% in inner London. The Head of Education Welfare and Social Work, Ian Norman-Bruce says, "It has a team approach. The EWOs take on the hard core cases, while the SHSw is seen as more approachable, building trust with a family."

  3.3  Activities have included a conference, to which primary head teachers were invited where SHSws explained the strategies for boosting attendance that did and did not work and the establishment of a primary accountability board. This includes professionals from education welfare, learning mentors, extended schools, the police, the school improvement team and SHS staff. The board meets regularly and provides an opportunity to compare experiences among different services, looking at what each is doing to support attendance. No more than five schools are discussed at each meeting.

  3.4  Exclusions can be averted via a number of early intervention strategies that can prevent situations developing that might lead to behaviour that warrants exclusion (see 1.4 above). Children in care in mainstream education are not picked out but are with a range of children or young people who are thought by their teachers and/or their parents/carers or themselves to be likely to benefit from these sorts of groups.

4.  Conclusions

  4.1  SHS work has been independently evaluated and, as well as successfully encouraging young people's aspirations, was found to make sound economic sense. New Philanthropy Capital's report, (Brookes M, Goodall E, Heady L, (2007) Misspent Youth) says, "School-Home Support's ... approach is tailored to the needs of children but can include addressing problems at home such as domestic violence or substance abuse, tackling behavioural problems and improving self-esteem. Research shows that this type of work can reduce exclusions by 25%. It is not possible to identify with certainty which pupils will go on to be excluded, so School-Home Support works with a broad range of children. The cost of successfully preventing exclusion works out at £28,555. For every £1 spent on School-Home Support, there is a net saving of £1.24. For all preventable exclusions, this represents a net saving of £90 million per annum".

  4.2  Our holistic, child-centred approach works to support the most disadvantaged children and their families. In particular, the forming of a relationship with an adult (who is not a teacher) in school is recommended as helpful for all vulnerable children and particularly for children in care. It is this that delivers the practical and emotional support that external evaluation has found to be so effective.

5.  Recommendations for action

  5.1  A known, trusted adult is a vital conduit between school and home for children in care and their foster carers.

  5.2  We recommend that government ensure that untimetabled school home link workers are available to support all vulnerable children, including children in care and their foster carers.

  5.3  We also recommend that all such school home link workers receive appropriate professional training that meets the national occupational standards set by the Children's Workforce Development Council, Parenting UK and the TDA (Training Development Agency). For example, SHS provides training to a wide range of school staff from teaching assistants and office staff, to head teachers and extended schools coordinators.

  5.4  We recommend that school home link workers can support the Designated Teacher in providing a link between the children, foster carers, social workers and schools.

  5.5  We recommend that whole-school, multi-agency approaches to improving attendance and reducing exclusions will work for all children and young people.

February 2008

1   Working in Partnership with Parents, Hilton et al 2002. Back

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