Promises, promises

Following the report of the Independent Care Review came The Promise which is effectively the vehicle for driving forwards the actual implementation of the changes required by the review. Yesterday, Plan 21-24 was published.

Plan 21-24 focuses on the period from 1 April 2021 until 31 March 2024. It outlines a set of outcomes that should be concluded by 2024.

There is a lot in the plan, with further detail to follow, but I wanted to take a quick look at what it says about the right to education. There are five specific outcomes which, according to the plan, will be in place “By 2024”:

  1. Care experienced children and young people will receive all they need to thrive at school. There will be no barriers to their engagement with education and schools will know and cherish their care experienced pupils.
  2. School improvement plans will value and recognise the needs of their care experienced pupils with robust tracking of attendance and attainment so that support can be given early.
  3. Care experienced young people will be actively participating in all subjects and extra-curricular activities in schools.
  4. The formal and informal exclusion of care experienced children from education will end.
  5. Schools will support and ensure care experienced young people go on to genuinely positive destinations, such as further education or employment.

These are ambitious targets to achieve in under three years, given where we are now. But it is right that we are ambitious and challenge ourselves to do better for looked after children in education.

As you may already know, in terms of Section 1(1A) of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, looked after children are presumed in law to have additional support needs. Section 6(1A) of the same Act requires education authorities to formally consider all such children and young people for a Co-ordinated Support Plan. This has been the law since 2011. But, the last time anyone checked, local authorities were failing to comply with these duties across the board – even on the most generous interpretation of the data cf. “GLC research reveals systemic failure of councils to meet education duties for ‘looked after’ children in Scotland”.

It is the commitment on exclusions which has generated the most headlines. While the number of exclusions of looked after children has reduced over recent years, and the gap in exclusion rates has narrowed slightly, looked after children are still seven times more likely to be excluded than other children. Exclusion is not an effective tool, even on its own terms, is well recognised as being catastrophically damaging to children, and is focused largely on our our most vulnerable pupils (see also statistics for exclusions of disabled pupils).

So, I fully support the commitment and look forward to legislative measures to enforce it. The use of the term “informal exclusion” is important as at least some of the recent reductions in exclusion have been achieved by simply moving exclusions off the books. Education authorities have taken a leaf out of independent schools’ playbook and replaced formal exclusion procedures with a quiet word about how we see your future elsewhere. Avoiding formal exclusion procedures may be argued to be less traumatic, but come at the costs of transparency and accountability. I have recently been involved in challenging the exclusion of a looked after child from their school. The school’s position, which they stuck dogmatically to throughout, was that the child had not been excluded, rather that their “learning opportunities had been moved outwith the school building” – in the child’s best interests, of course. So, this will require careful monitoring to ensure that this outcome does not become simply a relabeling exercise which leaves excluded pupils worse off than before.

It is also good to see the insistence on “genuinely positive destinations” – the use of the word genuinely is presumably there to prevent short term courses and tick box volunteering / activity agreements being regarded as a job well done, even if they don’t lead to longer term employment, education or training.

Overall, these are some challenging and positive objectives, which I very much welcome. If achieved, I do believe they would have a significant beneficial impact for looked after children and young people. As I say, they will require both further detail on implementation and careful monitoring as we move towards 2024. I’ll bring you more on these commitments as they progress.

Image by Cheryl Holt from Pixabay

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