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

Memorandum submitted by Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)


  Looked after children and young people deserve the very best education. QCA has a responsibility to ensure that opportunities exist, in terms of support, guidance and resources for schools, for them to enable pupils to excel as successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. Therefore, it is important that those involved with looked after children think about a big picture of the curriculum rather than fragmented areas that may leave them feeling excluded from the education system and society.

1.  A Big Picture of the Curriculum

  1.1  A big picture of the curriculum provides a coherent framework for the education of all children and young people and has particular relevance for the education of looked after children. It aims to help those concerned with schools (teachers, governors, parents and others) to develop all children and young people into successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens whatever their personal circumstances. Looked after children tend not to do well in the education system but this should not be the case. The structure is set out in "a big Picture of the Curriculum" which is attached at Appendix 1.[2]

  1.2  The Every Child Matters agenda is now well understood. The five outcomes for children are widely acknowledged and agreed by professionals as relevant and appropriate and they are built into a big picture of the curriculum. There is recognition that all services need to work in harmony to ensure the five outcomes become a reality for children's lives. Schools are seen as pivotal in delivering this agenda, as they are a universal service. As such, interventions designed to increase personal effectiveness, resilience and protective factors that can be delivered through the curriculum are cost effective, non-stigmatising and are able to be built on throughout the child's connection with the curriculum.

  1.3  A big picture was constructed to support thinking about curriculum organisation. The curriculum presents an opportunity to bring together the areas relating to children's social and emotional development through its emphasis on the "deep structure" of learning and the broader contexts in which children learn. A big picture provides a common language and frame of reference for all those working with children and young people either in formal educational settings, youth clubs, or other activities. It identifies the components of learning and recognises that learning does not only happen in school. Learning takes place through lessons, routines, events, extended hours, a range of locations and out of school. The new national curriculum can influence and structure the learning that goes on in all of these contexts, and not only those that take place in formal education.

  1.4  The curriculum is an entire planned learning experience, underpinned by a broad set of common values and purposes. It will secure improved attainment and improved standards, better behaviour and attendance, civic participation, healthy lifestyle choices and further involvement in education employment or training. The national curriculum has statutory aims, which are to enable all young people to become successful learners, responsible citizens and confident individuals. It has been designed to broaden the scope of education beyond the traditional narrow focus on subjects and to incorporate issues such as globalisation, creativity and sustainability throughout. It allows links between subjects to be made so that pupils see coherence to their learning. This makes learning relevant to pupils and helps them to see how their experiences are influenced by what goes on around them and how they can influence those processes. It is clear from the curriculum that the social and emotional aspects of a child's development are a fundamental part of education. The Every Child Matters outcomes are embedded in the structure of the curriculum. It provides the framework for the promotion of wellbeing, the construction of protective factors and resilience in the individual and improving employability.

  1.5  A big picture of the curriculum demonstrates the complexity of the learning experience for the child and shows how these are interlinked and co-dependent. By age seven, gaps in social abilities have emerged between socio-economic groups, as well as distinct differences in academic achievement. This leads to a vicious circle—poor achievement leads to low self-esteem which leads to poor behaviour. QCA has set up a personal development reference group that brings all appropriate stakeholders together to discuss the best way to engage with this issue in schools. It has ensured that the delivery of the new secondary curriculum is strongly influenced by the social and emotional aspects of learning. Schools have received enthusiastically the new secondary curriculum, largely because it adopts a holistic approach to the experience of the child as a learner, rather than a recipient of information.

2.  Looked After Children

  2.1  Looked after children often have to move schools repeatedly throughout their education which is extremely disruptive. Every effort should be made to ensure that moves are limited so they have continuity in their lives. When they do remain settled in a school or college for a long period they say that it is the one stable part of their lives, yet they remain an underachieving group as far as school attainment is concerned. Looked after children need extra support to become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. They need support from teachers, learning mentors, instructors and support staff as well as people outside the school environment (eg foster parents) to ensure that they have the chance to fulfil their potential, whether in a mainstream school or otherwise. A big picture of the curriculum encourages a broad range of learning approaches, from extended hours to activities beyond the classroom and school, which is particularly significant for looked after children. It is important that children in care are made aware of the choice and accessibility of libraries, museums, galleries, leisure centres, youth clubs, play schemes and other opportunities for broader learning. This would allow them access to the same type of "informal learning" as other children who may be taken by a family member to such opportunities.

  2.2  A big picture of the curriculum could be used in the training of foster parents and other carers (such as those in residential homes) to demonstrate the importance of providing looked after children with a broad experience of education through a range of routines, locations and environments. The framework, along with guidance from government and partners, will enable them to identify and implement successful learning opportunities and experiences for children outside the classroom and formal educational settings. For example the leaning to cook family meals or how to look after a younger child, perhaps on a trip to the local park.

  2.3  Good schools have, in recent years, seen their role as provider of learning experiences in a wider context than previously. There is recognition that the school should be the "broker of learning", harmonising resource around the varying needs of children within the school and creating a more personal agenda to meet the needs of every child. There is also recognition that by working flexibly with time, space and people, and bringing together the twin agendas of workforce reform and extended schooling, there is the capacity to support and enrich lives of all young people and communities.

  2.4  It is recognised that looked after children are much more likely to leave school at the age of 16 and become part of the not in education, employment or training (NEET) group at 19. The greater diversity in the curriculum, with the diploma and apprenticeships, will offer extra choice and encourage more looked after children to remain in education beyond 16. Diplomas will provide greater opportunity for young people to discover a subject area that inspires and motivates them. Apprenticeships also enable young people to earn whilst learning new skills and may be attractive to those young people who are ready to leave the care system to become independent adults.

  2.5  Diplomas will bring an innovative approach to learning. They enable learning in a range of widely applicable skills and knowledge and enable students to gain knowledge, understanding and hands-on experience of employment sectors that interest them, while putting new skills into practice. For example, as part of an engineering Diploma, learners will have the opportunity to study physics and have direct involvement with how physics is applied in the workplace through a project in a local engineering company. The result will be more engaged and enthusiastic learners who understand the purpose of what they are learning, as they see their newly acquired knowledge and skills in action. Diplomas will also extend the environments in which young people study -schools and colleges will have to collaborate to deliver the qualification and there will be opportunities for learning in a real workplace.

  2.6  A big picture of the curriculum incorporates the Every Child Matters outcomes and provides a framework of support so all young people can enjoy learning and achieve, lead safe, healthy and fulfilling lives and make a positive contribution to society. The average child in the UK leaves the parental home at the age of 24. However, young people in care tend to leave the system and live independently much earlier, many at the age of 16. Therefore, the ability to make healthy lifestyle choices is particularly important. "Be healthy" is an outcome of the Every Child Matters agenda and incorporates guidance and advice on, for example, sex and relationships and healthy eating. These components are fundamental as looked after children may not have experienced stable long term relationships due to a number of factors, including moving to different homes throughout their childhood. They may also need extra guidance on, for example, healthy eating to ensure they have the tools to take care of themselves and lead healthy lives. Further to this, looked after children are often carers themselves (eg for younger or disabled siblings) therefore they need effective support networks and resources to continue to participate successfully in education and in society.

  2.7  Taught subjects such as Personal, Social and Health education (PSHE) and Citizenship can assist all children, including those who are looked after, to live fulfilling, independent lives and contribute positively to society. It deals with many real life issues young people face as they grow up, which can be significant for any child especially for those in care. It gives them the knowledge and skills needed to lead healthy and responsible lives as confident individuals and members of society. The programmes of study for PSHE are based on the Every Child Matters outcomes and build on the existing frameworks and guidelines in these areas.

  2.8  Citizenship is also significant as it can help children and young people develop a sense of self-worth and personal identity. It also encourages all children to accept people from diverse backgrounds and encourages respect for different identities. It equips pupils to engage critically with and explore diverse ideas, beliefs and cultures and the values we share as citizens in the UK. Citizenship also addresses issues relating to social justice, human rights, community cohesion and global interdependence, and encourages pupils to challenge injustice, inequalities and discrimination.

  2.9  A big picture of the curriculum recognises the growing diversity of society in this country and is linked to the wider equalities agenda. Looked after children might be newly arrived, SEN, gifted and talented, disabled and so on. Moreover, they are likely to be in more than one "category". Children in care, for example, have a disproportionate level of special educational needs. The curriculum framework has been designed to inspire and challenge all learners and prepare them for the future. Inclusion is about the active presence, participation and achievement of all pupils in a meaningful and relevant set of learning experiences. Some of these experiences will come from the national curriculum; others, equally important, will come from the wider curriculum in and beyond the classroom. An effective inclusive school needs to adopt a whole-school approach to the curriculum. One of the main purposes of the whole-school curriculum will be to establish the entitlement to a range of high-quality teaching and learning experiences, irrespective of social background, culture, race, gender, differences in ability and disabilities.

  2.10  The Gilbert report on personalised learning refers to the importance of schools developing the so called soft skills in young people which are the characteristics that employers value in their employees such as good oral communication skills; reliability, punctuality and perseverance; the ability to work as part of a team; knowing how to evaluate information critically; being able to manage and be responsible for ones own learning and develop the habits of effective learning; the ability to work independently without close supervision; the ability and confidence to investigate problems and find solutions; resilience in the face of difficulties; being creative, inventive, enterprising and entrepreneurial. These skills are not only valuable in the world of work: they are also essential to life as a citizen in the 21st century. These skills can only be fully developed if the young person has a secure social and emotional base and a "vocabulary" to help them negotiate their way around these prerequisites for employment.

  2.11  Personalised learning puts children and their needs first. This is important for looked after children and their engagement with education and the entire curriculum process. Greater personalised teaching and learning, supported by a more flexible and engaging curriculum, offers opportunities to develop critical personal, social and emotional skills and develop the knowledge and understanding required to be active and responsible citizens. This is key to ensure looked after children feel a part of the education system, not excluded from it, and as a result achieve their full potential and go on to lead fulfilling lives.

  2.12  It is essential that looked after children have the secure support, active involvement and full understanding of those who care for them in relation to their education. A big picture of the curriculum provides a frame of reference for this which has resonance not only in formal educational settings but in a range of environments and opportunities for children and young people such as youth groups, sports teams. It has an invaluable role to play in the lives of looked after children.

Mick Waters

Director of Curriculum

February 2008

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