Leeds Beckett academic adds to new insights into the educational attainment of children in care
Dr Gary Walker, Principal Lecturer in Childhood and Early Years at Leeds Beckett, is supporting a major research project on understanding educational outcomes of looked after children, published by academics at the University of Oxford and University of Bristol.
The project, which was launched at a national event in London in the presence of the Minister of State for Childrens and Families, Edward Timpson MP, gives new insights into the complexities surrounding educational outcomes of looked after children. Dr Walker said: “The findings show that children in foster care do better at school compared to similar children still living at home in difficult circumstances. This is important because it challenges the dominant narrative that being in care damages children’s life chances.”
In his thesis, entitled ‘Institutional habitus and educational outcomes of looked after children: complexities and paradoxes’, published in June of this year, Dr Walker explored similar themes using an innovative approach to expose the complex reasons behind the lower achievement of children in care compared to their peers not in care. His findings, which support the outcomes of the Oxford/Bristol study, challenge the prevailing thinking which suggests that adults who support looked after children lack aspiration for the children, or fail to focus sufficiently on the importance of education.
Dr Walker explained: “Key findings of my research were that social workers, teachers, carers and others supporting the education of looked after children were highly committed to helping the children reach their educational potential, being careful to balance this with the child’s socio-emotional needs within a holistic view of the child.
“The work of these adults takes place within a complex local context where factors beyond the control of individuals, such as the effects of the physical geography of the local authority (for instance, some children having to make long journeys to and from school) and the inherent structural barriers to multi-agency working impacted upon their efforts.
“Taken together, these studies are important as they can begin to influence policy at national level. For example, the current narrow measures used for marking success for looked after children could be broadened to include more relevant factors, or the focus of reporting could switch from the apparent failures of the care system towards the many ways in which looked after children demonstrate progress throughout their educational journey.”
The Oxford/Bristol study can be read in full at http://bit.ly/1OBOO5b.