Anne Longfield's report for the Commission on Young Lives shows some worrying trends in exclusion figures.
Tens of thousands of children are not in school and there’s been a 55 per cent rise in permanent exclusions between 2010/11 and 2017/18. This paints an undeniable picture; children, teachers, parents, carers and social work teams are under enormous strain.
When we look more closely at how this impacts the most vulnerable children, looked after children are five times more likely to be excluded from school than their peers. They are also far more likely to achieve lower attainment scores in core subjects. Stats like this can make it seem as though the future of these children is sealed, but I will never stop askinghow can anyone ever justify giving up on a child?
It goes without saying that we need to continue to safeguard children and professionals and maintain quality, but it’s time to re-frame our response to challenging behaviour in education. It is going to take a huge leap of faith to reform the education system and move the dial far enough to improve the outlook for looked after children.
This is where initiatives like Another Chance Education come in. This trauma-informed service offers a solution which dramatically changes the face of education as we know it. In doing so, it allows more looked after children to perform against their expected reading and writing age. It also has the potential to see more children engaged in learning, broadening their horizons and increasing the likelihood of them being employed as adults.
Another Chance Education (1ACE) is many things, to many people and it works. 1ACE was established by Five Rivers Child Care in response to the demand for a different provision for looked after children, and it has a sound evidence base. During the pandemic, we adapted it to include a virtual outreach programme, known as 1ACE Virtual, to stand alongside our face-to-face education provisions.
1ACE and 1ACE Virtual reimagine what education could look like for some of England’s most vulnerable children. They work as online outreach, education, advocacy, training and support programmes with partnership at their heart.
The strength of this service, firstly, lies in its responsiveness and flexibility. Frequently the children we’re teaching have been out of education for a year or more. 1ACE Virtual removes many of the barriers the system faces re-engaging these children with learning – its virtual delivery means we’re able to get children re-engaged with learning quickly. Our service says “yes” to children, regardless of their background and, from day one, our work with the children and the people in their life begins in earnest.
With 1 ACE Virtual, children who are not currently in education, start online lessons, delivered by therapeutically trained teachers. This enables children to learn in a safe environment, at their own pace, free of fear of ridicule from other children. It also allows trusted and strong relationships to build between the teacher and the pupil.
We also work alongside their social workers in an education advocacy role. This is another significant part of the change; as experts in education, we’re equipped to challenge decisions and, with social workers, ensure provision is put in place that is in the child’s best interest.
To support the child’s learning at home, our teachers also spend dedicated time with their carers and families to build the skills they need to support their learning. This is another fundamental part of the service. This educational guidance builds confidence and expertise in the people who play a significant role in helping these children to learn and grow.
Since the launch of our virtual team in June 2021, we have seen a 100 per cent engagement rate from 107 children; children who have previously been excluded, or out of education for long periods of time. Without exception the baseline scores for the children engaged in 1ACE Virtual have improved and their confidence in learning has grown.
The programme has been so successful, as part of our social enterprise commitment, we are running a pilot project with Year 11 students in Five Rivers foster care. These children are in education, so this is a supplementary education piece.
This specialist, trauma-informed tutoring has also seen 100 per cent engagement and we’re seeing significant improvements in the baseline assessments and predicted GCSE grades for the children engaged in the programme. The Foster Carers in the pilot programme are now lobbying for this to be a standard support package to help them in their role as ‘teachers’ at home.
As a teacher myself for over 20 years,this service challenges everything I have come to know and expect from education. There is no building, or canteen, there’s no staff room or playground and there are none of the barriers children face just to get to school. The pressures on them and the teachers are reduced, enabling them the 1-2-1 time they need to work in a truly child centred way.
This really is an exciting development in educational practice and I can see it positively impacting the lives of children. It fills me with optimism about a future provision that doesn’t give up on children, but instead provides solid foundations to give children the futures they deserve.
James Hall, is head of education at Five Rivers Child Care