Foster care could prompt new educational thinking part 1

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Foster care could prompt new educational thinking part 1

Foster care and radical thinking

Foster care and fresh thinking

Foster care is very much about striving to support children and young people to do well at school. This is a big ask given so many children in care have been neglected. This means that they are significantly disadvantaged. This underlying goal of a foster care is correspondingly made that much harder. Despite the amazing efforts of foster carers, it is a sad fact that ‘looked after’ children do not fare as well as their peers. Only 6% will progress to university as compared with 50% of other children. Considering this – as well as taking a broad view of what is happening in education –  points to the need for a complete rethink about what and how we teach our young people. 

Foster care illustrates systemic problems.

More worrying for the government is that care experienced children disproportionately end up in trouble with the police. This is despite the fact that the great majority of care experienced youngsters do not commit criminal offences, but there remains a persistent over-representation of them within the criminal justice system. Consider: under 1 per cent of the general population have been in the care system, yet Lord Lamming’s conducted a review, which noted around fifty per cent of children in custody have been in care. Such an appalling figure becomes even more disturbing when it is considered that just 2 per cent of youngsters are in care because of their own “socially unacceptable behaviour”, but sixty per cent are in the system due to abuse and/or neglect – resulting in trauma.

What we need to be aware of is that it isn’t only children coming into foster care who are traumatised. Our education system now appears to be subjecting all our children to the risk of becoming traumatised. Trauma is trauma and it can result from a whole panoply of reasons. It is woeful – yet ironic – that children in foster care are likely to be ‘protected’ from such school induced trauma as they are more likely to be ‘off-rolled’. This is the practice where; as Ofsted itself has warned, thousands of school pupils may be “disappearing” from schools as a consequence of illegal ‘off-rolling’.

Ofsted inspectors discovered that in the period between January 2016 and January 217 – whilst pupils sit their GCSEs – 19,000 youngsters dropped off school rolls. There are legitimate reasons why a proportion of these children will have gone – such as decisions being made by parents to home educate. But revealingly, Ofsted discovered that youngsters with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), children eligible for free school meals and some minority ethnic groups were more likely to have ‘disappeared’ in this way. Clearly, many youngsters in foster care who are under-achieving will be at risk from ‘off-rolling’. These children are the most vulnerable and, as the foster care stocktake itself recognised, in attempting to justify the scandalously low proportion of youngsters progression to university, many will have special educational needs. Ofsted measured this: roughly thirty per cent of the 19,000 pupils had SEND.

Society needs to be aware that we have reached a position where significant numbers of children in foster care face a form of educational apartheid. And it is one that can easily predispose them to falling foul of the criminal justice system. We have also to deal with the fact that all those other remaining in our schools are under mounting pressures to perform. And investigations are beginning to reveal it is increasingly likely their well-being and mental health is being detrimentally affected.

This should come as no surprise. These children comprise all those who have not been ‘off-rolled’ to protect schools’ positions in the league tables. It is this group the schools rely on for success in the examinations. These pupils are subject to unreasonable pressure as it is vital they perform well. The schools are quite prepared to up the ante in number of ways: school days are being extended and regular sessions falling outside school hours have been made compulsory. One teacher has reported that anxiety levels have been raised amongst pupils in the school. This is because they are constantly in ‘countdown mode’. This is because they are being repeatedly told how many days are left before the exams take place. This causes mounting levels of anxiety which can manifest in a number of ways: more erratic behaviour, fighting and even incidents of self-harming. Children in foster care will be vulnerable to this they may already be struggling.

A world away from foster care.

In the independent school sector, there are also mounting pressures. Last year Barnaby Lenon – ex-headmaster of Harrow School – was advising children to revise seven hours a day over the Easter holidays in preparation for their GCSEs and A-levels. In a blog, Lenon writes for the Independent Schools Council he wrote: “All topics should be revised at least three times before the exam; studies should start at 9 am and finish by 6 pm with regular 30-minute breaks and a good night’s sleep at the end. “Good exam results are made in the Easter holidays.”

Whatever one thinks of the regime suggested by Barnaby Lenon it is interesting to note, and he must presumably be aware of this, conservative education reforms have given pupils attending private schools a significant advantage by allowing them to sit easier GCSEs. Research that has been conducted into the examination private schools opt for shows they choose IGCSEs. These are internationally recognised but viewed as being less demanding. Worse, state schools are gradually being barred from using them.

This confers an obvious advantage to those who are already hugely advantaged in relation to getting the best jobs and most sought after university places. This issue was brought to the attention of the wider public by Lucy Powell Labour MP – herself a former shadow education secretary. Her opinion: the reforms to GCSEs had resulted in state school pupils being placed at a disadvantage compared to their independent school peers. She stated: 

“State school pupils have been treated like guinea pigs while many independent schools have gamed the system, insulating their institutions and their pupils against these changes, keeping the easier international GCSEs completely, or waiting for the new GCSEs to bed in before opting to enter their pupils on to these courses.”

There is another inbuilt unfairness to this – one that is entirely predictable: introducing more demanding GCSEs in England has resulted in a widening of the gap between the results attained by disadvantaged pupils compared to their more fortunate peers. And this has been measured. When analysing the results of the 2018 GCSE exams, the Department of Education discovered the gap between less advantaged pupils and their more fortunate contemporaries, had grown by 0.6 percentage points. More about GCSEs at

We have, as a nation, to pause for thought.

After decades of educational theories and changes in policy directions we have – as a nation – been poorly served. A high proportion of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged are now being off-rolled. A privileged elite in independent schools can sit easier examinations. All those pupils in the middle in state sector schools are now experiencing stress levels likely to compromise their mental health. And this is all for what? If such pressures in the system meant that the UK was leading the way against its global competitors, there might be some value – possibly. But the actual truth is that when reference is made to the International Education Database, we find that the UK is ranked 21st. The goal of the database is to – 

“measure and rank the impact each nation’s education system has had in stabilizing their economy, and in developing their social environment. And to serve as a public center to survey, evaluate, and report the progress of the educational goals of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal Initiative (2015 to 2030).”

In the PISA (Programme for International Assessment) rankings of 2016 the UK was ranked 27th for maths. It was reported at that time schools in Britain were lagging behind in terms of performance. At the time this prompted strong concerns from academics in the UK pointing to government failures in education.

As we near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we are in a bizarre situation in relation to education. In certain ways, it appears Dickensian in its effects and inequalities. We invest in organisations to monitor and improve standards – as well as notionally ensure some kind of equality of educational opportunity. What we see suggests we are travelling in reverse in relation to these objectives.

Time for philosophy – could foster care lead the way?

As everything stands at the moment, we have a system which is slanted to favour those who are already privileged whilst threatening the well-being of large numbers in the state sector. And it now appears that many of the most vulnerable are being ‘off-rolled’: Ofsted are investigating 300 schools where this is suspected.

This is quite astonishing and must argue for a complete rethinking of our approach to education. 

Everyone who is concerned with the provision of foster care must be concerned about such a state of affairs. It is bound to affect children in the foster care system. And we are well placed to document the arguments that should now compel radical change. This is because foster care is focused upon meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. To create a system that works for these children, and delivers real results has to mean we are on the road to getting things right at last.

Part 2 of this blog looks at introducing an entirely new approach to education by introducing philosophy to the curriculum and the wider benefits this could bring.

Team Rainbow is looking for people with an interest in foster care?

Deciding to pursue a career in foster care is a big decision. There will be many considerations to take into account. Many people have the best of intentions when they think about working in foster care. But it is important to understand all the implications about what changes to your life – and the life of your family – will result from your going into foster care.

If you have been considering fostering children, we would recommend that you thoroughly explore the content of our web site. This will give you an overview of what foster care is all about. Particularly recommended are two pages to visit first:

It will also be very helpful if you visit our page on frequently asked questions. This has been compiled from real questions we have had from applicants thinking about foster care as a career – visit –

Foster care offers many different opportunities. There is a current shortage of some 8,000 foster homes in the UK. Behind this figure there are particular priorities. There is an urgent need to provide foster care for asylum seeking children, sibling groups and teenagers. We are also finding it hard to find people to train to offer foster care for parent and child placements. You will find dedicated pages on our fostering website that cover these areas of foster care – for example –

What kind of individuals choose to foster with Rainbow?

Rainbow is an Independent Fostering agency (IFA) that wants to attract applicants from all walks of life. You will be welcome to train to provide foster care whatever your ethnic background, religious beliefs or your age. Whatever your sexual orientation is – or your relationship status – this will not be a bar to fostering. At Rainbow, we have carers who are single people, couples, divorcees as well as married couples. Some of our foster families have children others do not.

There are certain minimum requirements needed to foster a child or young person. In the first instance, they are quite simple. You will need to be able to offer a room for the exclusive use of a child. this should have plenty of storage space for clothes and be somewhere they are able to study and complete their schoolwork in.

Fostering can be challenging. Rainbow provide high quality training on an ongoing basis for all our foster carers. Nonetheless, fostering is not something everyone is cut out for. there are certain qualities we look for in our applicants. We have to be very thorough as foster carers play a vital part in the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

It is worth asking yourself if you the following apply to you – do you have:

  • good listening skills;
  • a sense of humour
  • empathy;
  • a stable and harmonious family and personal life;
  • perseverance;
  • the skills to guide and discipline children without the use of physical punishment

If you feel you can meet all these criteria and feel highly motivated to make a real difference to a child’s life and prospects, call us on 020 8427 3355. We also have a National Line 0330 311 2845.

We would be very pleased to have an exploratory, friendly chat with you.

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