Changing teacher views on care
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Expert gives five key steps on how to overcome some teachers' negative perceptions of children in care.
In October, Become and Voices from Care Cymru published Teachers Who Care, a report looking at teachers' experiences of working with looked-after children in their classrooms.
In our previous report, Perceptions of Care, we asked children in care about their teachers. Only 48 per cent thought that teachers expected children in care to do well at school, and only 24 per cent thought that teachers knew what it was like to be in care.
In Teachers Who Care, 87 per cent of respondents had heard at least one colleague express a negative generalisation about children in care, and 31 per cent of respondents had heard such views often.
Here are five key measures teachers and schools can take to support looked-after children and challenge these attitudes.
1. Get on board with the basics
The teachers we spoke to described finding themselves under-prepared to support the needs of the looked-after children in their classrooms.
There is a lot of statutory support in place to support the education of looked-after children, but it will only benefit these children if teachers understand what these processes are and how best to use them.
Concepts like pupil premium plus funding, virtual schools and personal education plans need to be part of a teacher's toolbox before they go into the classroom.
Too often this information is used only by a few key members of staff, but by including the care system within teacher training and CPD, we can give all teachers the information that they need to teach the looked-after children in their class.
2. Understand care and trauma
Training should also go beyond the basics of terminology and reporting requirements. Teachers need to understand what being in care is like and how it impacts students' behaviour, mental health, and ability to learn.
Looked-after children experience a lot of disruption at home and at school. We know that instability can have a huge impact on any child's ability to learn, and looked-after children are more affected than most of their peers.
Supporting teachers to develop behaviour management techniques that take into account children's experiences of trauma or attachment difficulties can be of huge benefit to the whole student body, with evidence suggesting that these approaches can reduce exclusions and increase attainment, benefitting not just looked-after children, but all students.
3. Be ambitious for children
Many looked-after children do not receive the same support and encouragement from stable, trusted adults that their peers do.
Teachers may well be the most consistent adult presence in their lives, and the ones best placed to help see and nurture their talents and ambitions.
There may not be anyone else who will talk to them about the possibility of going to university or taking up opportunities while they are at school.
4. Listen to young people
Hearing from young people themselves can be one of the most powerful ways to correct these systemic assumptions.
This could be through bringing the looked-after children in your school together to get their advice and input, inviting care-experienced school alumni back to deliver training, or working across several schools.
You could also reach out to your local Children in Care Council, local authority leaving care team, charities and other organisations.
5. Change the narrative
There is more data collected about children in care than almost any other group of children.
We know the statistics can be stark. Care leavers are less likely to attend university than other young people, and more likely to have contact with the youth justice system or become homeless.
We have to address these systemic problems, but we should also remember that these children and young people are full of potential. Sometimes each individual child's experiences and their personal journey can get lost behind the data tables.
In Perceptions of Care, young people told us they wanted to be treated the same way as their classmates, but that they were often subject to lower expectations, discouraged from pursuing ambitions like attending university, and seen as destined for homelessness or prison.
These attitudes are not only wrong and discriminatory, but can have a huge personal impact on any child.
Looked-after children need their schools to be on their side. That's why we're calling on the education system to do more to support and equip teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to do their best for every student in their classes, including those in care.
Amy Woodworth is policy and campaigns officer at Become