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Children in care: creating a bi-directional pathway between academic research and school practice

6 February 2017

Teaching assistant and child

An IOE research programme on children in care reveals that a collaborative approach towards academic research and the school environment can improve outcomes for children in care.

The project, 'Promoting the Achievement of Looked After Children' (PALAC) engages schools and virtual school heads in a six month programme that focuses on 'knowledge exchange'; the sharing of research, ideas and expertise.

The programme seeks to support practice in schools to improve education outcomes for children in care through access to research findings, a comprehensive school audit tool and regular support from facilitators.

At its core is the collaborative relationship that exists between practitioners in school and university researchers, working bilaterally, to seek to improve our collective understanding of how pupils in care can thrive in school. 

Since its inception in 2014, PALAC has focused on a range of key domains for practice in schools, which include: social and emotional wellbeing; supporting learning; the school environment and working with carers and other professionals.

Research reveals that one of the most important factors in narrowing the attainment gap of looked after children is building caring school communities where children have a sense of belonging, have influence and autonomy, and where their educational competence is both valued and stretched.

A new book authored by the project's leaders, Dr Catherine Carroll and Professor Claire Cameron, summarises the current evidence base and acts as a teaching resource for all professionals concerned with the education of children in care.

The book includes case studies from the PALAC programme, which showcase the ways schools can strive to build supportive communities. For example, PALAC has investigated the impact of a full-time social care mentor for vulnerable pupils, literacy programmes and peer tutoring for GCSEs, as well as the design of a 'safe base'; an idea that is becoming increasingly popular in schools.

The book argues that while local authorities have a duty to promote the education of children in their care, not enough is known or documented through research about what best supports the education of looked after children; particularly in relation to applying practice in schools. To see improvements in this group of pupils, the wider community must be informed on these methods for helping looked after children in schools.

Dr Carroll said:

"The programme is based on a knowledge exchange partnership. Knowledge Exchange is a process that brings together researchers in universities and users of researchers in schools and wider groups to exchange ideas, evidence and expertise in order to address specific issues in education. Specifically, it creates a bi-directional pathway between academic research and school practice."

The research findings and book were presented at a conference on Thursday 2 February, which gave an overview of the educational landscape for children in care in school and showcased some of the projects undertaken by schools involved in the PALAC programme.

Professor Cameron said:

"On Thursday, we launched Taking Action for Looked after Children in Schools. This was a product of the first year of a programme of exchange of knowledge and expertise between schools and UCL researchers and has had important impacts in raising awareness about what schools and teachers can do to raise attainment and wellbeing for children in care in school."

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