Educating children in care throughout the Covid-19 crisis and beyond

Educating children in care throughout the Covid-19 crisis and beyond

Children have a palpable thirst for learning and exploring. Sadly, some children lose this inquisitiveness and natural confidence through negative experiences with education. We see this too often with looked after young people who have experienced multiple school moves and substantial gaps in their education. Many lack confidence in their abilities and have had negative experiences at school.

Young girl sat at desk writing in notebook
"At St Christopher’s, the children’s charity where I work, young people told us they were worried about this disruption’s long-term impact on their futures." - Geneva Ellis, Fellow

Naturally these factors can affect their educational attainment and, by association, their longer-term career opportunities. There is a substantial attainment gap between looked after children and their peers. According to the Department of Education, in 2019 9.7% of looked after children achieved grade 5 or above GCSE maths and English compared to 40% of their peers.

Recently the picture has been improving, with looked after children experiencing fewer mid-year school moves, according to a report carried out by the Children’s Commissioner. The Education Policy Institute has recently reported that the education attainment gap has been gradually narrowing for disadvantaged pupils. However, the Covid-19 lockdown and subsequent educational disruption facing children threaten to undo this progress, with some experts predicting it could widen by up to 75%.

At St Christopher’s, the children’s charity where I work, young people told us they were worried about this disruption’s long-term impact on their futures. Although looked after young people were still being offered school places, take-up of this offer has to be considered for each individual young person depending on their situation and safety. We could quickly see that a significant number of the children in our care were struggling to access the education that was available, and their educational needs were not being met. This was concerning as the progress they were making could dwindle and they could fall further behind their peers.

In response we adapted our educational support service and one of our qualified teachers began working remotely across our children’s homes and semi-independent homes. By doing so, they were able to equip the staff in these services to support each young person’s learning needs. We provided creative ways to engage young people to make learning fun and dynamic. We had no funding for this service and the Covid-19 Action Fund grant from the Churchill Fellowship has been a lifeline to helping us continue the much-needed work. The grant has also provided laptops that can be used by young people who did not have the right facilities access to their online learning.

My Churchill Fellowship back in 2012 took me to Germany, Norway and Sweden where I explored approaches to looking after children living in residential care. This was my introduction to social pedagogy, a holistic approach to education which is well established in mainland Europe. I saw in practice the critical importance of building relationships between young people and adults and learning through lived experiences.

This is a practice we have since embedded in our care homes at St Christopher’s, where we use relationships and security to create opportunities for learning in everyday life. Young people grow in confidence, find joy in learning and discover their own strengths. Our education support service promotes this by putting in place a model where teachers assist the main caregivers, who have the relationships with the children, to identify how best to support their educational needs.

We have seen some looked after young people really flourishing in lockdown with the opportunity to take things at a slower pace with less pressure and develop their relationships with caregivers. We’re now working to see how we can learn from some of the positive aspects of lockdown to help our children to keep thriving.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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