As long-time readers of this blog will know, the education of children taken into care has long been a concern of mine. The problem of having to change school both mid-year and unexpectedly has sometimes been further exacerbated by the unwillingness of some academies to take such children when they apply for admission.
As a result, I view this story in the Sunday Telegraph that was brought to my attention by the LGiU cuts service I receive as a Councillor with somewhat missed emotions
Cared-for children to receive private school bursaries
Children in care will be given discounted places at private schools from next September. Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi said scholarships and bursaries would be made available for disadvantaged children, with ten regional hubs comprising councils, social workers and public schools to be established to start placing the children with private schools. Bursaries provided jointly by councils and schools on a 40/60 split will be used to pay for their full-time education. Other cared-for children will also be able to enrol in debating clubs, drama classes, get help with university applications or have sports and music coaching, while remaining at their state schools.
The Sunday Telegraph, Page: 8
I wonder if these bursaries will only apply to children entering such schools in September at the start of the school year. If so, the children will be taken from whatever arrangements have been made for them already and put into yet another environment where they have no links. Could it work if these were day schools and the children could remain with their foster families or other placements? I am less certain if these were boarding schools. However, that would seem like the most attractive option at first sight, especially if schools paid 60% of the boarding fees. But the question then arises, what happens during the holidays? Do these children return to foster parents required to keep a space for them during term-time, but not paid for doing so? Any other alternative might mean the scheme costs more than present arrangements and that is only worthwhile if one has no faith in the state system of education. Might it also create a new form of children’s homes if they remained at the schools during the holidays?
Overall, the sentiment of the article could be read to suggest that children in care are neglected either by the staff in the homes, where a small minority reside these days, or by their foster families. In fact, many are very good at helping to build the non-academic skills of these children as the regular presentations by the Children in Care Council members to the Corporate Parenting Panel at Oxfordshire County Council can testify. That is not to acknowledge that extra cash will not be helpful. My preference would be to help combat the loneliness of those young adults leaving care and to support them through the especially challenging years of their lives, from 18-25.
Furthermore, the activities listed in the Sunday Telegraph article seem a bit skewed towards the 50% of society that will go to university and miss out on the other half. That is unless sport coaching involves all sports. Centres such as the Riverside Centre for Outdoor Learning in Oxford already do these confidence building. As they say of their work:
We work with learners (of any age) in a wide range of activities from sea kayaking to fairy cake making, from mountain walking to pizza cooking. When someone refers a young person, family, or even a team to us, we focus on what outcomes need to be worked towards. This approach gives us the best opportunity for success and is also the best way to achieve impact. Many of the young people who we work with lack confidence around learning and one of our key tenets is to work with the learner to show that they can be a ‘capable and a good learner’. We also provide accreditation opportunities (both internal and external). Accreditation is vital for young people who have not achieved in school, have low self-esteem or need confidence. It gives them something to put on their CV, or to talk about in an interview for college or work.
I would not want that work damaged by the new scheme just because it seems like a good idea to someone in Whitehall to involve the private school sector.