Foster carers will increasingly be aware of a statistic that seems to be gaining momentum. Hardly an article appears in the national press about fostering which; if it touches upon education, fails to mention only 6% of care leavers will go to university. This is, of course, unacceptable but does not look like changing any time soon. There is one thing that foster carers can do to increase a child’s chances in the lottery that education is fast becoming – especially if they are caring for young children – and that is to play.
Up and down the country, parents, whether foster carers or not, will be aware of the tyranny of the three ‘R’s. Parenting is becoming a desperate race to ensure children are prepared to cope with them. And woe betide the children and the parents who begin to fall by the wayside. Many parents find that their lives become defined by the struggle to cope with the pressures involved. What is this doing to family life? When we decide to have children, how many of us are aware we are embarking on a competitive marathon that won’t really end until the Holy Grail of a university degree has been achieved. Foster parents – like all mums and dads, and not just their children – it seems are missing out on the joys of childhood. It seems far too many of us are caught up in a blind panic. What is puzzling is that the country has hardly been short of armies of educational experts over the decades. They have been fuelling paranoia. This is the result of the endless testing regimes that have been introduced over the years. Where has this left us? The obvious thing is to measure the relative educational success; or otherwise, of our children against children from other countries. Doing this is a salutary experience. One quickly discovers the contrariety to our expectations. Foster carers, too, will be hugely aware of the emotional impact testing can have on the youngsters they look after.
Despite all the focus on the three ‘R’s and testing from almost the first day our children attend school, we are positioned well down the international educational leagues.
Whilst celebrating the results of many children in the state sector – the ones mostly from stable and secure homes – we must always remember where we sit compared to other countries. The OECD produces the highly regarded and influential Pisa educational rankings. These measure educational performance across seventy different countries. What is disturbing is that the UK was ranked 27th for maths and 22nd for reading: 2016 figures. Does this remotely justify the decades of political in-fighting and wrangling over the delivery of education in this country. “Nullius in Verba” should now be the response when considering education and how we go about organising it. The army of experts have had their say, and if the best that can be achieved is a ranking of 27th, their expertise has rightly to be called into question. It’s important that foster carers have a good understanding of the educational system here and how it is performing.
Another pernicious effect of the pre-occupation with testing is the effect on children who are already disadvantaged. This will obviously include many children who have come into foster care. For their more fortunate peers, the stresses can be significant, but for children already behind with their studies, the strain can be that much greater. So much so they many simply give up. The path to under-achievement is then marked out. And particularly worrying is the fact that this has been increasingly leading to schools ‘off-rolling’. Children, already vulnerable, are then excluded from school. Again a worryingly high proportion of these children may be or have had experience within the foster carer system. ‘Off-rolling’ means the risks of children and young people getting involved in gang culture can be significantly increased. With grim inevitability, far too many then get into scrapes with the law.
This entire educational apparatus is costing the taxpayer eye-watering sums of money. A trend which shows no signs of decreasing. Moreover, politicians adopt frequent initiatives and policy changes that are just not tractable. Whatever the arguments put forward on all sides, it’s clear that progress is not being made. And this should rightly concern foster carers as they already have a hard enough job. So where might we look to see where progress is being made? And then seek to understand the answers why. Doing this might demonstrate that the entire establishment has just been going up a blind alley for far too long. Well, the answer seems to be surprisingly close to home. Finland.
A quick note: give some thought to becoming a foster carer?
If you choose to become a Rainbow foster carer, you’ll discover that fostering is an incredible journey of discovery. Not only will you receive an extremely generous financial allowance, great training opportunities and 24/7 dedicated support, you’ll also be rewarded by making a crucial difference to the life and prospects of a child or young person.
Here at Rainbow Fostering, our goal is always to provide the very best encouragement and support for our foster parents. This lies at the very heart of our ethos. And it’s been recognised by Ofsted. In our latest inspection, we were found “Outstanding in all areas”. And it was also recorded that “ensuring children remain at the heart of our service”.
It is now generally accepted that Finland has one of; if not the, best educational systems in the world. Certainly, in terms of the results, it achieves. In recent years, their performance has been noticed particularly in the US. And the resultant head-scratching there should definitely give us pause for thought. In the US, there has; not unlike here in the UK, been a strong focus on competition. This has meant testing. The government have tried to apply the strictures of market place competition. This came right from the top. President Obama produced the ‘Race to the Top’ initiative. This invited different states to compete for funding by applying tests – amongst other measures – to measure the performance of teachers. This rather ‘red in tooth and claw’ approach has not delivered results that are comparable with those achieved in Finland. It seems that in countries like the US and the UK, we have simply been looking at education in completely the wrong way. And the costs of doing this are becoming far more serious than financial. In England, the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has been issuing serious warnings about the way children are becoming disturbingly vulnerable in our society. More widely, there have even been suggestions that teaching staff are given the additional task of identifying children with mental health issues. Growing numbers of children are not even engaging with education – especially those who have been off rolled. These children are at substantial risk. Anne Longfield has recently requested that government pledge £10bn for a rescue package as she puts it: “to rebuild services for the most vulnerable children and end high-cost crisis-led provision.”
This was made in the ‘Vulnerability Report’ which forms a part of the Stability Index that has just been released. The commissioner’s annual report also finds that approximately 2.3m children are –
“growing up with a vulnerable family background, including those with parents with mental illnesses, addiction problems or domestic violence.”
Out of the 2.3m, 1.6m children receiving “patchy or no support at all” and 830,000 of them are now classed as ‘invisible’ to child-care services.
Here we find an actual philosophy about education that is entirely shorn of political correctness. There are no other elaborate theories and fashionable, transient dogma. In Finland, they focus instead upon the joy to be derived form learning. There are no tests – standardized tests in Finland. All there is, just one exam when students complete their senior year in high school. And significantly, the system does not operate rankings, comparisons or competition between students, or indeed schools. The entire thrust of educational thinking and philosophy in Finland looks to inhabit a different part of the solar system. And yet it works…and it might even be as simple as seeing the work of a child as play.
Back in 2016, a leading toy manufacturer began funding research that looks like demonstrating a child’s educational development can be compromised by a reliance on formal schooling and testing. ten famous Lego Foundation has invested £4m into a ‘Play Professorship’ at Cambridge University. For far too long, play has been relegated from children’s lives. It has not been a priority – either for parents or for schools. But the culprits here are governments of different stripes. For it is they who have applied the pressure to prepare children for a competitive world.
The view of those at the Lego Foundation is that children miss out on early play-based learning if it is eclipsed by focusing totally on the three ‘R’s. Early years education should involve far more emphasis on play. This is a message that does seem now to be getting through to some parents.
What is concerning is that the government seems to be still wedded to the concept of testing and evaluating – with all the pressures this brings on children and their parents. To illustrate this; with the approach of the new school year, it has been reported that 4 and 5 year-olds in ten thousand schools – roughly half of all English primary schools – will undergo a new reception baseline assessment. It is emerging that a significant number of parents are not even aware of this. Intriguingly, the DfE (Department for Education) state parents have no legal right to know and it is left to individual schools as to whether to inform them or not. It is this which is beginning to inflame opinion amongst certain parents. It must be admitted that there seems to be something rather covert about this – despite blandishments from the government which seem a touch contrarious.
Whatever their motives, it would surely be a good thing if the government paused and reflected. Education in this country is not delivering in the way other systems are for their countries. The Finnish example should be taken on board. Especially because whilst it is busy outperforming ours, Finnish parents are not obsessed with the panoply of endless testing and all the worry and trauma that creates. This must mean they live in happier homes and their children have the most special gift of all – a childhood worth remembering. In this country, we have to be careful that at the end of all this we simply discover testing was never the answer and that we aren’t in any case even very good at it.
Foster care and the value of play.
All foster carers should – especially those fostering very young children – seek to ensure that there is plenty of time for imaginative play. All too often play seems rather trifling. This could not be further from the case. Play provides a crucial opportunity for children to develop essential life skills. And these cannot be taught within a formal setting. Play is very much about practising for life. Much play is about imitating how grown-ups behave in certain situations. through play, children learn fundamental social and emotional skills. This means getting along with their peers and being nurturing, co-operative, generous and empathic. Social skills and creative problem solving are all reinforced through play. More information is available at – https://literacytrust.org.uk/resources/10-reasons-why-play-important/
The small things count!
Knowing when it’s your foster child’s sports day; feeling their anguish if they have a bad day at school; remembering to check that they have taken their lunchbox with them to school. These things mightn’t seem to matter that much, but taken together demonstrates that you are present in the life of the child you are caring for. And they will notice this and feel loved, valued and secured.
It’s great time to become a foster parent so find out more by calling one of our friendly team members on 020 8427 3355 or use alternatively Rainbow Fostering’s National Line 0330 311 2845.
If you are really serious about foster care and the benefits you could experience. We like all our foster carers to be as knowledgable about their career as possible. Take a tour around our website and maybe visit – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/transfer-to-rainbow/
or perhaps a blog that might interest you – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-siblings/
Are you eligible to foster?
At Rainbow, we are keen to meet people – whatever their ethnicity, religion – or indeed cultural background. It’s the same for sexual orientation. And equally, If people are single, living as part of a couple, divorced, married – with or without children of their own – then it’s possible to apply to become a foster carer. We are particularly looking to recruit foster carers in London, Birmingham, Manchester as well as the Hampshire area.