Foster carers have an especially challenging task in helping to support disadvantaged children make the most of what the education system has to offer. These youngsters have already; in many instances fallen behind their more fortunate peers. Family backgrounds of instability and strife; in the worst cases, do not make it easy for foster children to thrive at school. This is why achievements can be relative: it is why foster carers around the country pull off amazing feats inspiring the children they care for to do the best they can.
We should be able to trust in government to at least match the efforts of foster carers in terms of ensuring our schools get the funding they need to provide the best for those who have least. This, after all, is a guiding principle that all of us would subscribe to. And, we probably assume that this is being done on our behalf. Why wouldn’t we? The UK is one of the richest countries in the world.
When we make assumptions – especially concerning those things which we attribute higher value to; and the education of our children doesn’t come any higher, there is an accompanying element of trust. Are we right to trust? It is best we are on our guard – especially when an argument is made which is adorned with statistics. This is not to be paranoid: one of the seminal books which was influential in the 1960’s and 70’s was ‘How to Lie’ with Statistics’ by Darrell Huff. Themes which were covered in the book included correlation does not imply causation and the use of random sampling. It also demonstrated how statistical graphs can be manipulated to distort reality. And we also have the popularisation of the quote “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” by Mark Twain. (originally thought to have been coined by Benjamin Disraeli).
Foster carers depend on well resourced schools
In the past it was possible to at least spend time considering the statistics that were presented for general consumption. Today, the unsleeping leviathan the media has become, disseminates information at breakneck speed. This makes it easy for us all to become befuddled. Today, because so many media channels assail us, rarely is there time to digest the latest information before more is served up. It is this speed of supply that can obfuscate. We, all of us – especially politicians – need not only to treat statistics with caution, but to consider what information may have been left out. A good example of this can be found in the increasingly rancorous debate around spending in our schools. It is a fact that from 2009 on, the amount spent per pupil in England has fallen by around 8% in real terms. While over this period, the total amount of school spending in England has risen by approximately one per cent in real terms, there has been a ten per cent rise in pupil numbers. The effect of this has been to spread a slight increase more thinly. By comparison, in Wales, spending fell by roughly five per cent, but as pupil numbers remained more or less constant, English schools experienced cuts that were the most severe. What cannot be contested, is that these are the facts in relation to the current situation.The amount of funding for schools for pupils under sixteen was protected until 2015. In a report this month, the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies presented a more accurate picture of the budgetary pressures schools face. This was done by allowing for reductions in spending on sixth forms as well as expenditure by local authorities.
By not allowing for such subtleties, Damian Hinds was pulled up short by Angela Rayner, his Labour shadow. She reported him to the UK Statistics Authority for claiming incorrectly that “real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system.” After only a few months in the job, Damian Hinds was forced to acknowledge that the cuts are real and their effects will be felt. That he is now battling the chancellor for additional funds is not the point at issue here. This episode reveals that a statistical picture must be complete before claims can be made that will influence policy as well as the perception of the people.
When the real picture emerges in relation to what the level of funding per pupil should be, we can make intelligent decisions as to where; in individual cases it might need to increase. And, as is likely, it will be discovered that foster children need additional support, we as citizens must support that. Whatever peoples’ political leanings, all will agree on the basic precepts of fairness. And it is demonstrably unfair that disadvantaged foster children do not benefit from a level playing field.
There is a cost – in 2013 – ‘Looked after Children & Care Leaver’s report, found that only 6% of ‘looked after children’ and care leavers in England were found to have been in higher education. This compared to approximately 40% of the general population. And, disturbingly, in 2016 an OECD study of basic skills ranked England lowest in the developed world for literacy.
Considering the foster care stocktake in detail
We have to exercise caution when presented with information which is careful in the comparisons it chooses – an example from the recent foster care stocktake: “Although children in foster care do not do as well educationally, compared to the general population, they do rather better than other children classed as ‘in need’ (and generally living at home with support from children’s services.”
We should, in what purported to be a detailed stocktake of foster care provision, be given a different comparison. And this should have had far more precise detail in relation to how children in foster care are faring less well compared to the school population at large: “Not doing as well” is about as vague as it gets.
Also from the foster are stocktake: “The proportion of children reaching the expected standard is higher for children in local authority foster provision than for children in IFA provision. In writing for example, 49% of children in local authority provision reached the expected standard compared to 41% of children in IFA placements.” This is interesting, of course, but again, the best measure has to be how are foster children doing in terms of educational outcomes against other children. Doing this is much more likely quantify where support needs to be significantly increased. The cost may be considerable, but we should at least be given the chance to know what it might be.
Further reference to education is made in the foster care stocktake in relation to the aforementioned statistic. It could hardly have been ignored:
“Fostering and the wider care system are particularly criticised because children in public care perform very poorly in education compared to the general population, with only about 6% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 attending university compared to half the non-looked after population. But this is not a useful comparison, when you consider the extent of abuse and neglect many children in care have suffered before entering care. Furthermore, the proportion of children with special educational needs is four times higher in the care population than in the general population. The reality is that when it comes to education, far from failing children, the care system can serve children well.”
It could be argued this is a very useful comparison indeed. Why? Because rather than merely “considering” the extent of abuse and neglect, we could, imagine providing the resources to more effectively address their effects. The same applies to the argument about special educational needs. Dramatically boosting resources here could well improve on the figures. It has to be conceded there is a telling and uncomfortable difference between 6% and 50%. Maybe that is why the word ‘half’ was used instead of the number as the emotional impact of a direct visual numerical comparison is lessened.
The recent Brexit campaign; if it has taught us one thing, it is that statistics can be used to baffle and confuse. And the effect is to switch off people’s interest. Admittedly, this blog has included statistics and anyone is free to research them further. But, when all is said and done, we should perhaps trust our instincts more. These should be informing us that – given all the recent headlines about education – something is not quite right.
Thinking of a career in foster care in 2018?
If you are seriously thinking about becoming a foster carer, we’d like you to know what makes Rainbow different. We take particular pride in the quality of the support and training we give our foster carers. That same pride is evident in the care and regard for the well being of our foster children. Rainbow’s team of experienced social workers, foster carers, trainers and support staff work every day with a passion and dedication to improve the lives of very vulnerable children.
Our experience of fostering has been built over twenty plus years. This means we are one of the most highly respected agencies in the foster care sector. Our foster carers provide safe, nurturing homes so youngsters can have a fresh start in life and flourish. In England, 6,800 new foster families need to be found over the next twelve months. We hope you might be one of them and join us.
We are recruiting right now – contact us on 020 8427 3355 or our National Line 0330 311 2845. We have a track record providing specialist foster care services for local authorities in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire.
We like to keep our foster carers up to date with all the latest fostering industry news: visit –
Good news at the end of this Rainbow…because we have had such a fantastic response to our summer literacy competition – we are extending the deadline for entries to the end of next week, the 17th August. Remember, there are prizes for all who enter.
All blogs written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing