Children who are in public care in the UK typically achieve lower educational standards than their peers who are not in public care (Fernandez 2008). Children’s psychological needs are particularly relevant to the educational context, as they impact on educational achievement and engagement with schooling. Among the factors related to looked-after children’s lower educational achievement are low educational attainment, poor attendance, overrepresentation in school exclusion, suspension, frequent school changes as a consequence of placement breakdown, low completion rates and high unemployment among those who age out of the system.
Research suggests that one of the factors needed in order for a child in care to succeed academically is a supportive home environment that encourages studying (Osborne et al 2010). This can be made difficult by limited contact between the key adults involved in supporting education of looked after children (e.g. carers, teachers, and social workers). Therefore, all carers should be encouraged to take a direct role in supporting their child’s education (Osborne et al 2010).
Teachers and carers need to focus on looked after children within a framework of high expectations and good teaching and learning for all students (Ofsted 2008). Support for looked after children should be rooted in good practice for all children (Ofsted 2008). One strand of a longitudinal study in Australia found that looked after children want an adult to take interest and encourage them to do well in their school work (Fernandez 2008). Areview of 11 interventions aimed at improving the educational attainment of looked after children concluded that if provided with adequate support, they seem to be able to improve in school (Forsman and Vinnerljung 2012).
A strong home-school partnership is critical to narrowing the attainment gap for looked after children, and this partnership must often include the state as parent too (Wigley 2011; Fernandez 2008). Because looked after children’s lives often lack stability, carers, educators, and any agency workers must all work together strategically to support their learning (Zetlin et al 2010). Additionally, when a pupil’s experience of learning is positive, the school environment and the educational process can offer structure, boundaries and security to looked after children (Wigley 2011; Zetlin et al 2010).
The development of structures and organisation that will help to identify any problems hindering school success for looked after children at early stages is needed (Zetlin 2010). The use of some form of data-tracking system between carers, educators, and agencies can facilitate strategic communication.
Caregivers often seek outside help to address the children’s learning, social, emotional, and behavioural needs (Zetlin et al 2010). Looked after children may need more intensive support, and inter-related service delivery, co-ordinated strategy, and integrated responses to looked after children’s psychological and educational needs should be implemented and practiced (Fernandez 2008).