Working in partnership with the school

How can I make sure the school understands the circumstances of the child I am raising?

Government guidance says that school staff should be aware of the sort of challenges facing children who are being raised by family and friends carers(i). However, teachers who are unaware of the circumstances of the child you are raising may unintentionally say something which the child finds upsetting because of earlier experiences, for example in a classroom discussions about pupils' parents. Schools may also be unaware of the implications of different legal orders for children raised by relatives or friends, and may therefore be unsure how to respond if they are visited or contacted by the child's parents. It is therefore really important that you explain to the school the circumstances of the child you are raising. You should if possible discuss this with the headteacher and your child's class teacher or head of year, and you may wish to also discuss the situation with the SENCO. This may help to prevent various problems arising, for example:

  • Confidentiality of information that you share with them: you could ask them to ensure that the child's personal information will not be shared around without good reason or without your consent, but that it is passed on to those who do need to know, such as new class teachers or the SENCO, so that you don't have to keep repeating the child's story.
  • The child's legal arrangement: you could explain to them the legal arrangement for the child whilst they are living with you (for example if they are under a child arrangements order that specifies where the child should live or a special guardianship order) and what that means for the school, in terms of how much the parents see the child or are involved in making decisions about their education.
  • Emotional and/or Behavioural Difficulties: you could discuss the child's behaviour, the background to it, and any things you think work in managing the child's behaviour and feelings. It may help to point out that children living with relatives and friends are likely have experienced similar problems to those in the care system, so may be traumatised by past experienceus and separations, or may have attachment difficulties. You may also want to tell them about any particular sensitivities that the child has as a result of past experiences.
  • Cover story: if you and the child have agreed a story which helps them explain to their friends why they are not living with parents, it may help to let the school know about this.
  • Contact and Child Protection: if child's parents' contact with the child is restricted or prohibited, due to a legal order such as a Prohibited Steps Order or a Child Arrangement Order, or there is a protection plan restricting the parents' contact, you should talk to the school to ensure they are aware of it so they are able to put in place appropriate measures to manage contact.

Does the school have to provide extra help for children with special needs or disabilities?

Yes, they should. For information about this see here.

What can I do if I have concerns that the child I am raising is being bullied?

Government guidance on bullying called Safe to Learn(ii) defines bullying as: 'Behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally.' All schools should have a policy on how they will deal with bullying.

If you suspect that the child you are raising is being bullied, or is involved in bullying other children, you should first speak to the child to hear their account of what has been happening. Some children find it difficult to talk about bullying to people they know well, so you may also find it helpful to suggest that they could call Childline (0800 1111).

If you believe that bullying has taken place, you should speak to your child's teacher or tutor as soon as possible. The sooner a situation is tackled, the better. Often schools can take steps to defuse a situation once they are made aware of the problem. At the same time you can ask for a copy of the school's bullying policy to make sure its procedures are being followed. It will help if you keep a written record of instances of bullying, for your own and the school's information.

If you are not happy about how the school has dealt with bullying, you could make a complaint to the school governors. You can get further advice about this from:

  • Family Lives (helpline 0808 800 2222)
  • Kidscape (an anti-bullying helpline for parents/carers tel 08451 205204).

What extra educational support must be given to children who are (still) looked after in the care system?

There are several ways in which the education of looked after children should be supported:

  • They must be given priority for admission to the school of their carer's choice.
  • Every looked after child must have a Personal Education Plan (PEP). This is produced jointly by the school and the local authority and sets out how the child will be supported and enabled to achieve their full educational potential(iii). It forms part of the looked after child's Care Plan and should be reviewed at least annually. No significant decisions about a looked after child's education should be taken without the school, social worker, you and other involved adults meeting to review the PEP.
  • Each state school in England is required to have a Designated Teacher working at the school whose duty is to promote the educational achievements of looked after children at the school(iv). This might involve, for example, attending the children's PEP meetings, or ensuring that teachers manage information about the child's background sensitively.
  • Every local authority is required to appoint a Virtual School Head, who will be responsible for ensuring that the authority can track and monitor the attainment and progress of looked after children, and who will act as a champion to ensure their educational needs are being met(v).
  • The Pupil Premium is a government grant which provides additional funding for schools according to the number of children currently receiving free school meals or who ever received free school meals within the last six years, and the number of children who are or have been looked after(vi). From 2013-14 all children who have been looked after for one day or more, and those who have left care under a Special Guardianship Order, Residence Order, or to be adopted, make their school eligible to receive the Pupil Premium. The amount paid to the school for looked after and formerly looked after pupils is currently £1,900 per pupil(vii). The Virtual School Head decides how to spend the Pupil Premium funding for looked after children. Once the overall Pupil Premium payment has been calculated, the same amount does not have to be spent on each pupil. Resources should be allocated on the basis of each individual pupil's need.

What extra help must be given to children who were looked after in care and are now under a residence or special guardianship order?

Further information

ACE Education Tackling bullying at school
Coram Children's Legal Centre Bullying
Preventing and tackling bullying, and supporting children and young people
The Pupil Premium

(i) DfE (2011) Family and Friend Care Statutory Guidance para 4.11
(ii) DCSF (2007) Safe to Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools
(iii) DCSF (2010) Promoting the Educational Achievement of Looked After Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities
(iv) The Designated Teacher (Looked After Pupils etc)(England) Regulations 2009
(v) DCSF (2010) Virtual School Head Toolkit
(vi) DfE (2013) Pupil Premium FAQs
(vii) DfE Schools Funding Settlement including pupil premium: 2013 to 2014 financial year