Assisted Boarding For Looked After Children
Bede’s Senior School is leading the Assisted Boarding for Looked After Children (AB for LAC) programme, which provides full bursaries to enable children in care to take up boarding places at the school.
Our programme benefits LAC who are resilient enough to thrive in a boarding environment and these children are identified by the Virtual School within the local authority. We currently provide places to five LAC (four from East Sussex and one from Brighton & Hove), and two young people (YP) have already completed their education with us.
Bede’s Senior School also works with a number of LAC from East Sussex for whom boarding is not suitable, as they are not resilient, or they are too young to access the programme. This outreach work has different facets (described in detail below) and includes delivering weekly drama workshops to vulnerable LAC at a secure unit in East Sussex, working with the Foster Placement Support team to offer respite to carers through Sports taster days and enrichments programmes and hosting the Children in care awards, to name a few, all of which take place at Bede’s and are led by staff at Bede’s.
The core aim of the Assisted Boarding programme is to provide support and stability for and to help improve the life chances of looked after children. The scheme enables such children to benefit from a strong ethos of personal and social development and gain access to many extra-curricular activities. It also provides opportunities and the correct environment for educational success. By working closely with social workers, foster carers and the Virtual School, we are able to provide children with the support they need so that they can to thrive in a boarding environment.
The aims of our outreach programme include a desire to engage the large number of LAC in East Sussex, who are not able to access our boarding programme. At the heart of our work is a strong emphasis on raising the aspirations and expectations of the child and everyone around the child – the foster carers, social workers, placement support workers and foster siblings. This in turn leads to those adults who work with our looked after children having higher aspirations for all looked after children.
Looked After Children (LAC) are the most vulnerable children in our society and they are the children whose educational outcomes are the lowest. In September 2012 Dr Richard Maloney, Headmaster of Bede’s Senior School, and Adrian Money, Head of the East Sussex Virtual School for Children in Care, formed a partnership between the St Bede’s School Trust and the East Sussex Local Authority (ESLA) to enable LAC from East Sussex to attend Bede’s senior School, an independent boarding school.
It is well known that some Independent Boarding schools offer bursaries to vulnerable children and those considered on the edge of care. These bursaries, often supported by charities such as the Royal National Children’s Foundation, have provided hundreds of children with life changing opportunities. However, children in care are not considered for such places. There may be cases where the Local Authority has funded a boarding place for a child in care; however, such opportunities are rare and it is not a model that is sustainable financially for an authority. Finance is only one aspect to consider here. There is a perception that children in care require more support, their needs more complex and the relationships between foster carers, social workers and birth family too challenging to deal with. Above all, looked after children have not had someone to champion their cause, nor boarding schools willing to engage and commit to such a programme.
Bede’s Senior School and East Sussex Local Authority have taken up this cause and since September 2012, when two young people in care first took up places at Bede’s Senior School, five more children in care have joined Bede’s as part of the Assisted Boarding for Looked After Children programme.
In September 2013, the position of LAC Co-ordinator was set up at Bede’s, so that the school could develop its work both within the school and with the local authority. This role included that of a Governor of the East Sussex Virtual School, and this in turn led to opportunities arising for Bede’s to engage in outreach work with all children in care, and not simply those identified for the programme.
(i) Bursary – Bede’s provides 50% bursaries to all of our LAC who are part of the Assisted Boarding programme; the LA contributes the money derived from the reduced fees paid to foster carers during term time, and The Springboard Bursary Foundation tops up this amount so that all fees and extras are covered. This model is sustainable as it is cost neutral for the authority. Bede’s is committed to providing three new places every year – two at our Senior School, and one at our Prep school.
(ii) Governor of East Sussex Virtual School (ESVS) The LAC Co-ordinator is a Governor of the East Sussex Virtual School, responsible for overseeing the AB for LAC programme within East Sussex. Attendance is also required at four governors meetings a year (and emergency meeting when needed), along with events hosted by the Virtual School, such as the annual Virtual School Conference and the Children in Care Awards. It is also the role of the LAC – Co-ordinator to form partnerships with other authorities. We already work with Brighton & Hove Authority, and we are in discussions with Kent Authority, and will hopefully place one of their young people in future.
(iii) East Sussex Foster Placement Support We work with the Foster Placement Support team, who provide respite for foster carers in East Sussex. Every school holiday (twice in the summer), we offer a Sports Taster Day, when we welcome groups of up to 15 LAC to spend the day in our Sports Complex, trying out various sports, with swimming and gym sessions included. All sessions are staffed by Bede’s. Twice a term, on a Saturday morning, we invite in groups of LAC to take part in sessions led by both teachers and students involving music, media, art and animal management, and we invite them to stay for lunch.
(iv) Lansdown Secure Unit and Homefield Cottage: During the Autumn and Spring term, one of our Drama teachers attends Lansdown Secure Unit in Hailsham to deliver weekly two hour Drama Workshops to small groups of vulnerable young people. We are developing a relationship with Homefield Cottage (a children’s home in Seaford) and are working towards bringing a small group of their vulnerable children in to take part in Animal Management sessions.
(v) East Sussex Children in Care Awards: We are hosting the annual East Sussex Children in Care Awards on Friday 16th October – this will consist of a meal (provided free of charge by our caterers, Holroyd Howe) followed by an awards ceremony in our Recital Room. This is part organised by the Bede’s Events team in partnership with the Children’s Services, and all our contributions are voluntary. 60 children in care will be attending (each with a carer) from East Sussex.
(vi) English Companions: We champion LAC and seek opportunities to enrich and develop them. In July and August, we ring-fenced places for two LAC and three students from EYLA (Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy) as English Companions at our Summer School at Windlesham. We will again ring-fence places for LAC and EYLA next year. Again, the opportunity will be presented to both Heads of the East Sussex Virtual School and Brighton Virtual School and EYLA in the first instance, to allow them time to identify suitable candidates, before we open it out to others.
(vii) Support: We have a strong and open relationship with the East Sussex Virtual School, whereby they will ask for support and if we are able to help, we will. For example, in February, we provided transport to enable a group of Year 11 LAC attending a revision course at the University of Sussex and will do so again next year.
It is a well-documented fact that the educational outcomes of children in care are very poor when compared with those of non-looked after children, and the expectations of such children are low. Moreover, placements can change frequently leading to uncertainty for the child. The impact of the Assisted Boarding programme is that we have had excellent outcomes for LAC, who have been given this life changing opportunity in terms of exam results, stability of placement and social development. Indeed, of those LAC who have joined our school, none had aspirations to go to university on arrival, but all currently are working with such an aim in mind. Although exam results are not our sole interest, since September 2012, three of our LAC have sat public exams:
YP 1 gained A*AA at A Level and in October 2014 took up a place at Exeter to read Physics with a year in Australia;
YP 2 gained AAB at A level (along with one AS Level at grade C, a merit in the Leiths Beginner Certificate in Food and Wine and a Distinction for the Certificate in Culinary Skills) and has just taken up a place to read Geography and Anthropology at the University of Sussex;
YP 3 has just passed 7 GCSEs and has started A level and BTEC courses in Business, ICT and Media in our Sixth Form.
In terms of opportunity and social development, for examples, YP 1 and YP 2 were both selected to be prefects in their boarding houses, and YP 3 took part in the trip of a lifetime to China when in Year 10.
However, there is a wider impact and benefit of our Outreach programme, as we are able to offer opportunities to children for whom our boarding programme is not suitable, yet we are still able to raise awareness of what education has to offer. Our weekend and holiday sessions not only allows a greater number of children in care to access our facilities (Sports Complex, Media Suite, Dark Room, Animal Management Unit), but these raise aspirations of the children and those adults working with the children. It allows our own staff to develop awareness and understanding of the needs of children in care. Furthermore, it enables our students to engage with a group of children, who they would otherwise not encounter.
In many ways, the greatest impact of inviting younger children to these sessions is that we are able to ‘sow seeds’ of future opportunity for the more resilient children. If they are aware of what Bede’s and education has to offer, then the idea of a boarding place is something that need not be such an alien concept when they reach Year 7 onwards. Rather, it will become something aspirational, and, hopefully, attainable.
The Assisted Boarding Programme is open to boys and girls from Year 7 onwards, and we currently have 5 LAC in our Trust; one each in Year 7, 10, 11 and two in Year 12.
Our outreach work involves young people of all ages, with the youngest attendee so far (who attended a sports taster day) being 6 years old!
We intend to continue our work with East Sussex Local Authority, cement our relationship with Brighton & Hove, develop our relationship with Kent Local Authority and open a relationship with Surry Local Authority and West Sussex Local Authority. We are passionate about our work with Looked After Children and will continue to champion them. We will continue in our partnership with the Virtual school to explore ways in which we can engage children in care and raise educational aspirations and expectations of the children and all those who work with looked after children.