At a glance

The Welsh Government is committed to improving educational outcomes for looked after children. To inform future policy for supporting looked after children in education and improve educational outcomes in Wales they commissioned IFF Research to conduct interviews with a range of key stakeholders. The study identified nine principles for better integration and collaboration and helped them to understand what is working well and what could be improved within the current systems of support for looked after children in education.

About the client

The Welsh Government is the devolved government for Wales which works across key areas of public life such as health, education, and the environment.

Challenges and objectives

The Welsh Government is committed to improving educational outcomes for looked after children. This research was commissioned to understand the current systems and practices in place across each local authority in Wales, and how to implement the recommendations made in the 2020 Macdonald report ‘An integrated approach to improving educational outcomes for looked after children in Wales’.

The research aimed to demonstrate how a new integrated Welsh model of support could be implemented and the impact of introducing it; and to suggest options for how the new Welsh model might be monitored and evaluated.

Solution

We interviewed a range of stakeholders, with a focus on what is working well and less well within the current systems of support for looked after children in education. This included social care and education stakeholders and practitioners in all 22 LAs, eight school leaders, five care experienced young people and other interested parties. We also reviewed relevant Welsh and international policy and practice documents.

Impact

This research provided evidence to the policy team on the feasibility, resource implications and anticipated effectiveness of implementing an integrated approach to improving educational outcomes for looked after children. It will assist them in making future decisions they need to make in this policy area.

To create the conditions for better integration and collaboration, the study identified nine principles (outer circle of the diagram below). These relate both to systemic ways of working and practices adopted by individual practitioners. It is expected that all LAs adopt these principles and that they would be enshrined in local strategies for looked after children. Key principles based on existing good practice and include:

  • A child- or person-centred approach which must consider educational needs alongside concerns about wellbeing, health, and placement stability.
  • As corporate parents’ accountability is key, staff at all levels and across LA departments should hold themselves accountable for looked after children.

The study also identified the key building blocks (or jigsaw pieces – see the centre of the diagram) to improving educational outcomes for looked after children through an integrated approach. These include:

  • The collection of more holistic outcomes data on the wider social and emotional factors that are likely to impact educational progress. This must be done systematically across all local authorities with the Welsh Government holding LAs to account.
  • The implementation of ‘restorative leadership’ i.e. leadership that is both supportive and challenging. This may involve establishing a virtual schools approach in Wales – as is already in place elsewhere. Pilots are recommended to test and evaluate how this approach can work best in Wales.

Recent case studies