This item was presented by Gill Manton, Head of the Virtual School, and Celeste Henderson, Improvement Officer.
Members were reminded that Looked After Children had poorer educational outcomes than non-looked after children, as many face significant challenges: 61% have special educational needs compared to 15% of all children nationally. In addition, looked after children are twice as likely to be permanently excluded from school and five times more likely to have fixed period exclusions than all children.
Officers stated that educational statistics for Looked After children could fluctuate considerably as a result of year on year changes to cohort size and educational background. The number of Looked After Children in Croydon was 800 in March 2016, a figure which included 430 unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC). While some UASC come to the UK with little if any educational experience, officers stressed that many went on to make considerable progress.
Members were given an overview of the work of the Virtual School for the academic year 2015-16. Officers explained that it played an important role in teaching Looked After Children without a place in a mainstream school. They added that their number fluctuated from day to day and was currently 25. The Virtual School was able and willing to address the varied needs of its pupils and to tackle the hardest challenges these presented. School work includes providing English tuition and explaining behavioural standards and soft skills expected in UK schools. The good teaching of ESOL (English as a second or other language) to UASC in John Ruskin College was also highlighted.
Young people attending the meeting were asked to share their experience of education in Croydon.
Y. explained that he was studying English as a foreign language and that it was going well.
Ch. explained that the Virtual School had been critical to her educational success. In addition, she stated that the concerns she had shared some time ago regarding the availability of university studies for Looked After Children had been heard and that she had consequently obtained a scholarship to study for a degree. She confessed that she would have been tempted to "give up" if she had been unable to continue her education. She was now in the third year of her psychology degree.
Ch. was asked if she would have been able to achieve so much if her English had not been so good. She answered that while her English had been a significant help, the key ingredient for success was personal drive, which could help one overcome considerably challenges and difficulties.
Officers explained that work was being carried out to understand the impact of the Immigration Act as the council's responsibilities towards Looked After Children were likely to change considerably under the terms of this new legislation.
Members discussed the children and young people coming from the "Jungle" in Calais. They were advised that they would be settled in a variety of different locations through the National Dispersal scheme. Officers also explained that any council where more than 0.07% of their child population were UASC did not need to take in a child permanently. Some children had been registered at the Home Office in Croydon and housed temporarily in the borough before being dispersed to other parts of the country. Only a very small number of very vulnerable young people will stay in Croydon to minimise any further risks to them.
Members discussed support to Looked After Children in mainstream schools. They were advised that each school had a nominated teacher with responsibility for looked after children, who meets with the virtual school forum to share good practice and resolve ongoing challenges. Further support is provided to looked after children through one to one sessions and various educational activities such as a summer enrichment programme as well as additional help with maths and literacy.
Asked about mentoring programmes for looked after children, officers stated that many voluntary organisations and particularly faith groups offered this type of support, but they admitted that there was room for improvement in this area. They explained that "Independent Visitors" fulfilled this role and that one full-time employee in Croydon was responsible for the recruitment and allocation of these visitors to befriend and encourage children and young people in care.
It was suggested that a peer mentoring scheme should be considered. It was also highlighted that funding for mentoring schemes and other services was not available for young people aged 18 and over, who still needed this ongoing support despite having reached this milestone in their lives. Members felt that additional funding was needed to make mentoring available to looked after children beyond this key birthday.
Members discussed the use of Pupil Premium to provide additional support to Looked After Children. They stated that some schools were using it as specified by the Head of the Virtual Head. Officers explained that any establishment which did not use Pupil Premium as intended were visited by council officers to highlight and resolve this matter. It was agreed that those schools that use Pupil Premium effectively should share this with less well performing establishments.
Members requested financial information on the use of the Pupil Premium by schools in Croydon to provide additional support to looked after children.
Ch. and Y. and officers were thanked for their useful input.
1. That the report be noted.
2. That officers explore ways of increasing the provision of mentoring to looked after children and young people to enable them to improve their educational outcomes.