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Written Statement - Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales – one year on

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We want to see all children whatever their backgrounds, being given every possible opportunity to reach their full potential.
Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education

Members will recall the publication in January 2016 of the looked after children education plan - Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales. I have today published a progress report  in implementing actions in the plan.

Children who enter care come from a background of family crisis or breakdown. Abuse or neglect is often a factor. We can not change their personal experiences, but we have to work harder to mitigate the impact and to support them into rewarding, fulfilling and independent adulthood. Research shows that all too often that simply by being ‘in care’ the expectations placed on these young people reduce. This culture impacts negatively on their ability to achieve.

We have always been clear that the delivery of the looked after children education plan is a shared responsibility. The Welsh Government has a pivotal role – we can lead, facilitate, cooperate and deliver, but not in isolation. Education consortia, local authorities, schools and the third sector have a critical role. The education of looked after children must be a priority to improve levels of educational attainment.

Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales contained 37 actions to be completed over 3 years. Of these, 15 have been delivered. A further 10 have been delivered partially and action will continue on those and the remaining 12 actions this year and next.

To maintain our strategic approach, share good practice and ensure a coherent and collaborative work programme we have established a National Strategic Group comprising key practitioners from local authorities and regional education consortia amongst others.  The group has met on 4 occasions since March 2016 and will be instrumental in further implementing the plan.

I am delighted that we have been working with CASCADE – Cardiff University to develop an online community of practice - ExChange: Care and Education! - where everyone involved with care-experienced children and young people will find a helpful ‘one-stop shop’ for information relating to improving outcomes.

Estyn has delivered one of the actions in the plan, and in July last year published a best practice report Raising the attainment, achievement and aspiration of children who are looked after which contained excellent case studies which showcased innovative work happening in our schools. We are working with local authorities around Wales to understand what action they have taken to support looked after children following the report’s publication.

Our third sector partners have also been instrumental in helping us meet some of the commitments. With our support, The Fostering Network have published A Foster Carer’s Guide to Education in Wales  to support them in their contact with schools, and Adoption UK (Wales) has published Getting it right for every child – Schools’ guide to working with adopted children and their families.  The principles in this guide apply equally to children who are looked after.

Prior to the publication of the education plan – through these organisations, and Voices From Care – we opened up a very constructive dialogue with looked after and former looked after children, foster carers and adoptive parents. Their help and support has been invaluable and provided considerable insight into the impact of policy and practice at a personal level. We have continued this dialogue in the last year.

Looked after children are telling us very clearly they don’t want to be labelled; they don’t want to be treated differently, they want to be part of the decision making that affects the rest of our lives. This excellent video for schools by CASCADE provides very clear insight into the views and opinions of some looked after children. The message is loud and clear. As adults we need to start hearing and acting on those messages.

Looked after children and young people have high ambitions and aspirations and we fail them by expecting them to achieve anything less than their full potential. The aspirations and ambitions of significant adults in the lives of children who are looked after should at least mirror those of the child. Strong and appropriate support – aligned with an unswerving sense of belief - is essential if we are to progress.

I have been clear in my commitment to the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), and in March I announced that I would be extending the PDG to provide support to three year old looked after children in the Foundation Phase.

In April 2015 education consortia were given – working with schools and local authorities – a pivotal role in delivering coherent and consistent support to children who were looked after. Arrangements were introduced in part to strengthen our understanding of the barriers faced by looked after children in education.  
This regional approach has helped develop our understanding of the needs of children who have suffered trauma, loss, abuse and neglect and experienced attachment issues. Regional consortia have been asked to submit their plans on how looked after children will be supported by the PDG in 2017-18. I will expect to see a further strengthening of these arrangements – underpinned by genuine regional delivery plans – to better support looked after children in education.

Throughout education we need to continue our approach of preparing children and young people to succeed through the rest of their lives, not just their exams. However, I was pleased that at Key Stage 4 in summer 2016 23% of looked after children in Wales achieved Level 2 Inclusive threshold (5 GCSEs at Grade A* - C in English or Welsh first language and mathematics). This represents a 10 percentage point increase since 2012. The gap with their peers is still too great, but we need to celebrate success wherever it happens to ensure that we sustain that progress.

I am committed to equality of opportunity and equity of provision in education, ensuring that all children and young people are supported to achieve their potential, regardless of their background or personal circumstances.

Looked after children are saying to us very clearly that we need to encourage them to succeed and we must continue to ensure that we do all we can to help them achieve their aspirations and ambitions.