This time of year is always an emotional one for teenagers receiving exam results – filled with highs and sometimes lows, a time when young people look forward to a new horizon. As a former teacher, it’s not that long ago that I was nervously waiting to see the results for my pupils.
I would like to congratulate everyone who received their exam results this week after an extraordinary year of challenge – and a special congratulations to Asif, a member of our experts by experience board who received his (extremely impressive) A-level results on Tuesday. Like all care-experienced young people he will be able to relate to negotiating this stressful period against the backdrop of additional challenges.
But not everyone thrives in the face of these challenges. I expect that in the analysis of the results that will take place in the coming months we will see the unacceptable but familiar finding that young people in care or with a social worker continue to score far below their classmates. And that’s in addition to inequalities they face in their health, housing and chances of getting a job.
Figures in the Case for Change tell a concerning story – attainment at key stage 4 is 34% lower for a child on a Child in Need plan, 46% lower for a child on a Child Protection Plan, and 53% lower for a child in care, when compared to children without a social worker. Only 6% of 19-21 year olds who left care enter university and while the rates rise to 12% by 23 years old, this compares to 43% in the general population.
This is by no means a universal story – I have heard how young people can make up lost ground in care thanks to extraordinary support from foster carers, teachers and other professionals and I’ve met care-experienced young people who achieve outstanding academic results – but far too often this is not the case.
The educational attainment of a young person, who may have lived in a residential home or foster carer for only a few months, is not wholly or always attributable to their time within the care system. Young people’s lives before they come into care can be complicated and often chaotic or traumatic.
So why do these disparities exist? Well, studies have identified many factors that can affect the stability of a young person in care’s education including things like absences or changes of school. It’s also not too difficult to understand that many care experienced young people will be facing challenges their peers cannot even imagine. They may have sat their exams with an undercurrent of uncertainty about where they might be living. Those turning 16, 18 or 21 find themselves facing cliff edges of care when their classmates are looking to the future with the security net of a loving family behind them fighting their corner.
The Case for Change is clear on the importance of relationships and it is a theme I return to time and time again. When those lifelong loving relationships are compromised it affects everything, including education.
We must ensure we have a system that facilitates those relationships – be it through making sure children are not sent to homes miles away from everyone and everything they know (including their school), encouraging kinship care as a means to stability and continuity, making sure that young people’s relationships with social work professionals are not constantly fractured or that they do not fall off cliff edges of care on key birthdays.
Loving and stable relationships create foundations for children to learn and everything must revolve around protecting them. These connections are the bedrock from which all else is built and the key to unlocking the potential we know exists for these young people.