Statement 7: Looked-after children and young people are supported to fulfill their potential

Key messages

Lack of educational achievement is one of the biggest barriers for looked-after children and young people to realise their potential. The educational attainment of looked-after children and young people is below that of the general population and the attainment gap has been widening at Key Stage 4, with only a quarter of looked after young people achieving five or more GCSE grades A*-C compared to three quarters of all pupils.[1] 

There are a number of explanations for this lower level of attainment: instability of care and school placements; inadequate levels of targeted support, low expectations and aspirations; lower starting levels because of earlier adversities; poorly informed teachers and social workers; and carers not sufficiently engaged in the child or young person's education. Placement stability, in particular, is correlated with attainment; the more moves a child or young person experiences the less likely they are to achieve than those in a single placement. It is, therefore, important that local authorities make the right placement based on the needs of the child to avoid disruption. Having an effective personal education plan (PEP) and avoiding disrupting education unless it is unavoidable should be an integral part of the care planning process. The PEP should not be a static document, but should be regularly reviewed and updated.

The virtual school head plays a crucial role in helping improve the educational progress and attainment of looked-after children and young people. They are responsible for tracking and monitoring the attainment of looked-after children and young people; ensuring that they have a robust PEP; and championing the needs of looked-after children and young people across the authority and those placed out-of-authority. A significant minority of looked-after children and young people have a statement of special educational needs, mostly concerning behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. It is important that teachers and carers understand the impact of abuse and neglect on learning and the likelihood of looked after young people entering higher education.

Carers and social workers also have an important role to play in supporting education by providing learning support at home, and encouraging the child or young person to take part in social and leisure activities. Taking part in social and leisure activities is important to help young people develop their full potential outside of formal education. Involvement in activities such as sport or music helps children and young people develop their interests and talents as well as improve their self-esteem and confidence. It is also important in helping them develop their social skills and in building up support networks.

Looked-after young people and care leavers need good careers advice, as well as opportunities for work or apprenticeships to help them develop their self-belief and prepare them for adult life. They also need a level of financial support to take part in educational or training programmes. Local authorities should publish the rights and entitlements of looked-after children and young people, and all agencies involved in supporting them should be aware of their entitlements.

It should also be remembered that fulfilling potential is not just about educational achievement. Looked-after children and young people need to be supported so that they can realise their hopes and dreams for their future lives as adults.

Links to Ofsted Judgements

This statement links to the following Ofsted judgements:

'Children and young people attend school or other educational provision and they learn. Accurate and timely assessments of their needs, as well as specialist support where it is needed, help them to make good progress in their learning and development wherever they live. They receive the same support from their carers as they would from a good parent. The attainment gap between them and their peers is narrowing. The local authority maintains accurate and up-to-date information about how looked-after children are progressing at school and takes urgent and individual action when they are not achieving well. All looked-after children and young people attend a good school.'

'Children and young people who do not attend school have access to 25 hours per week of good-quality registered alternative provision. They are encouraged and supported to attend the provision and there is regular review of their progress. Urgent action to protect children is taken where they are missing from school or their attendance noticeably reduces.'

'The local authority holds clear records in respect of the numbers of children receiving alternative education and for those missing from education.'

'Social workers, residential staff and carers support children and young people to enjoy what they do and to access a range of social, educational and recreational opportunities. Those adults have delegated authority to make decisions about children’s access to recreation and leisure activities.'

'Care leavers have access to appropriate education and employment opportunities, including work experience and apprenticeships. They are encouraged and supported to continue their education and training, including those aged 21 to 24 years. Care leavers are progressing well and achieving their full potential through life choices, either in their attainment in further and higher education or in their chosen career/occupation.'

'Care leavers have access to and understand their full health history and are provided with all key documents they need to begin their lives as young adults, for example national insurance numbers, birth certificates and passports.' 

Tips, tools and practice examples

Suggestions for evidence that could be collected to assess performance against this quality statement include:

  • educational progression and attainment
  • numbers of looked-after children and young people taking part in leisure activities
  • numbers of care leavers entering further or higher education
  • numbers of care leavers entering employment or apprenticeship. 

Evidence should always include feedback from children and young people. 

Good practice resource - Improving outcomes for looked after children and care leavers: London Borough of Ealing

This Ofsted resource outlines a one-stop shop programme that provides young people in care and care leavers with the range of services and support they need from a single access point in a youth-friendly setting, with the aim of improving their outcomes and life chances through engagement and participation.

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Who Cares? About Education: A tool for elected members

This resource provides helpful suggestions for elected members and a list of 20 questions that they can ask themselves in evaluating what improvements they could make to improve educational outcomes for looked-after children and young people.

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Measuring Progress

This resource discusses and shares practice to enable children in care to fulfil their educational potential. It comprises a number of thematic booklets, reflecting the needs of practitioners, and a solutions checklist.

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Useful resources

Education of looked-after children and care leavers

The Department for Education has a web page dedicated to the education of looked-after children and care leavers. It includes information on Promoting the education of looked-after children and information on local authorities’ duty to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children Local authorities and the education of looked-after children.  It also includes a data pack on the attainment outcomes of looked-after children: Using data to help improve your service

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The impact of virtual schools on the educational progress of looked-after children

Ofsted has produced a report on the impact of virtual schools on the educational progress of looked-after children. The report draws on views of carers; children and young people; professionals; and representatives from schools, colleges and the voluntary sector. It can be used by local authorities to examine what they do to support their children against the best practice identified.

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Believe In Me: Supporting Designated Teachers Supporting Literacy

This magazine-style publication was produced by the National Literacy Association in partnership with The Who Cares? Trust. It emphasises the importance of the role of designated teachers in the education of looked-after children and young people.

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Practice Guide: Stage 2 of the Equal Chances project

This resource provides information to help local authorities improve the educational outcomes of looked-after children and young people. It provides a broad range of resources to help local authorities choose which developments and initiatives to implement in their area. It includes piloted approaches, wider aspects of good practice and findings from academic research to help local authorities improve educational opportunities and outcomes for looked-after children.

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Supporting Looked After Learners

This resource is aimed at school governing bodies to help them gain an understanding of the experiences of looked-after children in schools and the challenges they face. It provides advice on developing and implementing policies and procedures and also poses a set of questions to help governing bodies evaluate their current approach.

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Who Cares? about going to university: A guide for managers, practitioners and carers supporting young people aged 14–21 in and leaving care, to go to university

This guide provides practical information and guidance for anyone in a position to help and encourage young people in care, or leaving care, to continue into higher education.

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Young Minds in Schools

This dedicated web page helps educational professionals’ understand the link between emotional wellbeing and learning. It provides information on wellbeing and special educational needs as well as a range of resources for teachers and others to use.

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Info4carekids

Info4carekids is a website that practitioners may wish to recommend to children and young people. The site provides information, advice and links to further resources. It also offers useful suggestions and advice to those looked-after young people who are preparing to live on their own.

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