I attended a great professional learning session this week, sharing and exploring current strategies and ideas on how to address the support necessary for looked-after children.
A colleague working closely with the county council is supporting us to ensure that the care for these pupils is adequate and appropriate for their needs within the school setting.
What is a looked-after child? A child usually becomes looked-after when a parent or next of kin is unable or unsuitable to care for them. The majority of children who are looked after by a local authority are placed with foster carers in an effort to protect their right to life within a family environment. At my school we have only a small number.
As teachers, how much do we know and how much should we know in order to help us plan and prepare appropriate and meaningful learning for these children?
Annually a Personal Education Plan (PEP) is written with the collaboration of the child and key stakeholders from the school and the council in order to identify targets and support going forward.
However, during the CPD session, we did discuss how digestible this information is. The PEPs we looked at were great, but they were also fairly long documents. It is certainly a challenge to access all of this information and stay up-to-date when these documents and meetings go on throughout the year.
We took the opportunity in the CPD session to pick out key information about our looked-after children and this was an eye-opener. For example, having some devoted time to find out that one student likes PE or that his attitude in history lessons is excellent was invaluable. As a result, I have been thinking – what are they doing in history that has made him really engaged? What is it about PE? The team-work perhaps, the physical nature? What could I bring into my classroom to aid this pupil’s learning?
Elsewhere, we discussed a looked-after child’s self-esteem. Often this can be low and so they may behave “conservatively” and not risk standing out, although equally they could behave “recklessly” as they feel they have “nothing to lose”.
We discussed seating plans too. I had never considered whether disruptive behaviour may be a consequence of feeling vulnerable at the front of the classroom with everyone behind you. Or at the back feeling isolated.
We discussed managing change, including changes in school, such as moving up into the next year and pupils being “set” by ability and having an awareness of being “bright and clever” or the opposite. Significantly, a change in school itself could have a huge impact on behaviour, confidence and esteem.
We discussed moving geographically, which can have a significant impact on a pupil. For a child, a change in location, and not knowing the road, community or town you live in, can bring anxiety as much as it may bring hope of a fresh start.
Also crucial is managing the loss of parents, siblings and extended family when it is no longer appropriate for young people to be in that environment. Some of our children have arrangements to see siblings at intervals throughout the year, but we asked whether seeing your brothers or sisters just four times a year is comprehensible for an adolescent who just wants to feel normal?
It is a shame to admit that I had not raised many of these questions for myself. I now feel a greater sense of responsibility to provide better learning opportunities for these students.
I should know enough to build rapport effectively and be an advocate for these pupils. The focus for me is on creating opportunities to build their self-esteem and show to them and others just how successful they are and can be.
SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.