Education and Care - a resource for young people: Interview with Dr Nikki Luke

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Earlier this week, Dr Nikki Luke, a research fellow at the Rees Centre, University of Oxford, and two care experienced colleagues, Charmaine and Jade, published Education and Care: A resource for young people. This blog follows a conversation she and Daisy Elliott, policy and research officer at The Fostering Network, had about the resource and wider research project.

Can you tell me about your background and research interests?

I was always interested in child development but when my dad and step mum became foster carers, I gained a particular interest in the development of children in care. For my PhD I looked into the relationship between children’s parenting experiences and their relationships with other children, as well as themselves. I have now worked at the Rees Centre for eight years on a variety of projects looking at children in care and in need.

Can you tell me about your most recent research project?

We have created a resource from a project which is a follow up to a publication from 2015 we worked on in collaboration with the University of Bristol. In a conversation with a care leaver about the interview findings from the first project we were told ‘I wish I had known there were other people who felt like I did’. So, for the second project we decided to produce a resource for children in care.

The second project, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looked at children in need as well as in care and included an analysis of national data sets looking at which factors predict better or worse grades at GCSE level. It also included interviews with 123 children, parents and carers, social workers, teachers and senior social work managers about what they think makes a difference to children’s educational outcomes. Based on the interviews with the young people we created the Education and Care resource.

What exactly is the Education and Care resource?

The Education and Care resource for young people is based on said interviews from the second project which included 23 children of primary and secondary school age from six local authorities in England. Our care experienced researchers, Charmaine and Jade, were integral to creating the resource. Drawing on their own care experiences, they were responsible for picking out key themes within the interview transcripts. Their insights and work on this were fantastic.

Who is the resource for?

This resource is for children and young people. We wanted to bring to life other children’s experiences to make sure they don’t feel alone. We hope that the resource can be used as a guide and to prompt discussions about their education with an adult they feel comfortable talking to. The reading age of the resource is of primary to secondary school aged children, but this is not prescriptive. Also, at a practical level, we hope that once filled in, the resource can be used in children’s personal education plans and looked after child reviews. By capturing the child’s voice, the team around that child can assess their educational support needs.

Obviously, school is going to be very different for children when they return for the Autumn term. Can they still use the resource?

Although the resource doesn’t include a particular covid-19 section we think it will still be useful for children returning to school this Autumn term. It can be used as a tool to assess children’s needs as they return to school and encourage them to talk about their relationships with friends and teachers and how they feel. It may be particularly useful for those children transitioning to secondary school who may have missed all the introductory opportunities that usually happen throughout the summer to make the transition more comfortable. My top tip would be to make sure the child is feeling heard and knows what’s going on.

If there was one thing you would like foster carers to take from your research, what would it be?

I think one really important message is that foster carers play such a crucial part in children’s education. When we spoke to the children, they expressed that their foster carers encouraging them, having someone who cares about their education, advocating for them and providing a sense of security and belonging were key positives in improving their relationship with education.

What next?

Having this resource is really exciting and it’s nice to be able to give something back to the children who helped us with the research projects. We hope it is used widely and has a positive impact on children and their educational attainment and progress. I will use the research findings to inform the PGCE training at the University of Oxford to raise awareness amongst future teachers of key issues for children in care and how teachers can be more sensitive to their needs. Through future research I would like to understand why – despite having lots of similar experiences – those children who have been in care for 12 months or more seem to be doing relatively well compared to other children who have just entered care or are children in need. I would like to know more about this group, what contributed to their progress and what schools can do to promote this more.

Other resources

Read the policy briefing for the research project: Children in Need and Children in Care: Educational Attainment and Progress