Welcome to the eighth edition of our Head, Heart, Hands newsletter.
Caz Bowles from the Head, Heart, Hands team provides an update on the programme as it enters its next phase.
December 2015 saw the end of three years of funded work in the seven Head, Heart, Hands demonstration sites. We are delighted by what has been achieved in the sites and it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of everybody involved. There has been exciting early evidence from these fostering services of the change that social pedagogy can bring to fostering practice and outcomes. The impact on children and young people’s lives is especially encouraging. Foster carers have frequently reported stronger and more meaningful relationships with the young people in their care. Although the programme funding has ended, all of the site teams have committed to continue with the development of social pedagogy in different ways. The beginning of this year marks a transition to a new phase of their journey.
The programme is also not over for the Head, Heart, Hands central team at The Fostering Network, with work continuing throughout 2016. This will focus on supporting the evaluation work up until the final report, to be published in November by the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University in partnership with the Colebrooke Centre for Evidence and Implementation. Alongside this, The Fostering Network will also be developing a collection of resources to inform others about the programme learnings. These findings will also be shared at end of programme events in England and Scotland. For more information about the programme to date and the emerging evidence of the impact of social pedagogy in the sites, please see our latest progress report or email us to register your interest in attending the end of programme conferences.
As the funded work in the demonstration sites comes to an end, Head, Heart, Hands programme manager Grace Howard reflects on her experiences over the last three years.
What have you been most proud of during Head, Heart, Hands?
The commitment from everybody in the programme has been massive and I think everyone can be extremely proud of everything that’s been achieved. We can be very proud that we can see we’re making an impact on looked after children. I wasn’t certain when we started that we were going to be able to show a direct impact on children. We now have foster carers saying they feel more able to articulate their practice, that they know they’re drawing on social pedagogic theories and practice, which helps them have confidence in what they’re doing. We are also seeing children and young people benefitting from new experiences and creative activities, and growing in confidence through gaining new skills. All of that is building up to a picture of children who’ve got a better shot at life. I think that is what we should be proudest of in this programme.
Has Head, Heart, Hands brought you any surprises?
In one sense, I think the scale of impact on the fostering services has been bigger than I thought. We all know it takes a long time to achieve culture change and I’m not saying we have got there, but we are shifting cultures. The sites are telling us that the teams are more open with each other; more reflective; there is more dialogue and more mutual professional respect; there are stronger personal and professional relationships. There has been huge commitment of the site teams to challenge the culture. The social pedagogues naturally question things in a way that I don’t think we traditionally do in Britain. All the sites have been looking at policies and procedures and maybe starting with one form or one meeting and then expanding that because they’re seeing the impact. I didn’t expect that impact on the services. I think it’s really helpful, the idea that our programme legacy includes not only foster carers, children and young people but also people in the service who are feeling better about their jobs.
Now that the work in the sites has finished, what will happen next?
To start with, the sites are continuing social pedagogy with further training and support. The Fostering Network is building the learning from Head, Heart, Hands into its services and products and ways of thinking about foster care along with the other innovation programmes that it’s leading on. The social pedagogy consortium has a continuing influence, not only in the way they work with organisations but in their huge commitment to the Social Pedagogy Development Network. Local authorities and independent fostering providers beyond our programme are starting to look at it. We are very enthusiastic about the fact that the social pedagogy consortium, led by the Institute of Education, is going to be setting up the Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA) to look at training, accreditation, opportunities for learning, and networking. To be able to think about social pedagogy as a profession in this country is really important I think we can look enthusiastically towards the future. I hope very much that the Head, Heart, Hands evaluation report is going to back up our feeling and evidence from stories from the sites about the level of impact we’re achieving in this programme. There are of course challenges in this sort of cultural change, but I hope that the evaluation report will show as we believe that social pedagogy is a worthwhile investment to create better lives for looked after children.
I believe that we have achieved what we set out to achieve: we have demonstrated that social pedagogy makes a positive impact in UK foster care, and shown what the journey can look like in a range of settings. Local authorities are going ahead with social pedagogy, and they don’t make investments in things that are not worthwhile. They haven’t yet got the evaluation report but they are still investing in it, so for me that is the proof of the pudding.
A foster carer describes how using a reflective technique in supervision led to positive steps to resolve a difficult situation.
‘Our supervisor and the children’s social worker introduced the concept of using a reflective technique, which we found helpful. We all sat round a table but to begin with my partner and I faced each other and discussed our views on the support we had been receiving from the department over the last few months.
‘The supervisor and children’s social worker took notes and just observed our conversation. After five or so minutes, we stopped and then they had a conversation about what they had observed and how it made them feel and think. This also continued for about five minutes but there is not a strict cut off time.
‘My partner and I then talked to each other about what they had said and how that had made us feel. The idea is to continue this method until you feel able to have a joint discussion. We decided after three rounds of observing and reflecting to face each other across the table and discuss what had come up and how we could move forward.
‘It might sound strange but I found it freed me up to say things that I might not have said straight to the two social workers’ faces, even though I knew we were in the same room. Having the space to talk without being interrupted also helped to avoid escalation when people start to defend themselves.
‘We started off feeling quite stuck but by the end of the session, we had understood each other’s points of view and had some positive steps to take to try to improve the situation.
‘I think it is a technique that could be used with children in foster homes when you need to resolve disputes or get feedback about how they feel as well as being able to express some of your feelings in a safer way.’
Simon Johr, social pedagogue with Staffordshire County Council, describes his journey working on the Head, Heart, Hands programme.
What do you bring to the programme from your own social pedagogic background?
I find this question very difficult to answer, because this programme had such a huge influence on me as a professional that it has become very hard to imagine myself without it. I have done a lot of training during the last three years which influenced me massively. The whole role of constantly explaining social pedagogy gave me huge clarity about how I see the approach myself.
I would really say that this programme formed me as a social pedagogue. It feels rather odd to imagine who I was three years ago and what I brought to the programme at that time: what I am bringing now to the programme is very different. However it is still far from being finished.
What would you say to a non-social pedagogue are your key learning points from the programme?
I learnt first and foremost to be patient. Change does not happen overnight and change is not always the big revolution you thought it would be. On the contrary it is rather slow and small.
At the beginning of the programme, we focused on what we thought were massive changes in the structure of our service. In retrospect I have to say that these were relatively easy to achieve. The really tough challenge is to maintain these new structures. In order to make it work you have to win the hearts and minds of the people you work with.
Head, Heart, Hands became for me more focused on achieving a culture change and implementing Haltung. If this is the basis, everything else will follow.
Educating Children and Young People In Care: Learning Placements and Caring Schools
By Claire Cameron, Graham Connelly and Sonia Jackson.
Published by Jessica Kingsley, www.jkp.com
The subtitle of this book is the main thrust of its premise – that foster homes should be educational in the wider sense and that schools should be caring.
The authors state: ’Educating children in care is at last recognised as important; but to be effective, care and education need to be integrated in both placements and schools.’
This guide provides statistical evidence, case studies and practical support for foster carers, social workers, teachers and learning mentors. It draws on interviews with foster carers, social pedagogues and young people as well as a research project, based in five countries, looking at the post compulsory educational pathways of young people.
Influence of social pedagogy
The three authors, who have worked in research, practice and development of education for looked after children, argue that social pedagogy has much to offer children’s services in the UK. They assert that the everyday environment is just as important as the academic environment, as a space for learning. The book cites the social pedagogue, Klaus Mollenhauer, who says that education is the central task of upbringing, which parents undertake on behalf of society.
To create a learning environment at home, the book recommends giving children a sense of belonging, doing activities together which encourage learning, helping with homework and reading bedtime stories. Involvement in extra-curricular activities is also encouraged; studies have shown this reduces the likelihood of dropping out of school or turning to crime.
The importance of early years education is emphasised. Almost a quarter of children in care are under five and yet little is known about their educational experiences. However, the first two years of life are a period of rapid brain development which provides the basis for later learning. Foster carers need to give children a sense of security, promoting curiosity and attending to their needs. Children under two should not watch any TV and it should be limited between the ages of two and five. This advice continues into adolescence, with studies showing that school attainment is inversely related to time spent playing video games.
Criticism of UK education system
The authors criticise the current education system in the UK, which has led teachers to become too narrow, focusing on delivering a set curriculum to meet certain targets. Statistics show gaps in levels of attainment for children in care compared with peers, reaching as high as 43% by age 16. Reading recovery, mentoring and nurture groups in schools are among the suggestions to reduce this.
In a chapter called Caring Schools, the authors emphasise the importance of pupils feeling valued for their contributions and that the school cares about their wellbeing. Elsewhere one chapter stresses the need for teachers to understand the effect of trauma on learning and the value of the school environment for helping children feel safe and confident, while others are dedicated to going to university from care and supporting migrant children.
The book concludes with a call for a different strategic approach which views care and education as inseparable and integrates concepts and practices. Overall, the book is informative, packed with empirical evidence and interspersed with thought-provoking case studies. It is a useful reminder of the importance of educating children in the widest sense, both at home and at school.
The Sutton Trust runs a summer school programme to help high achieving year 12 students progress to university. It gives priority to looked after children and can be flexible about the entry requirements.
The summer schools are free, one-week residential programmes at 10 of the UK’s leading universities. The programme covers a wide and diverse range of subjects to suit a whole spectrum of interests and career aspirations. The summer schools help students learn about applications and admissions, finance and accommodation choices. Through living in a hall of residence with other like-minded young people from across the country and receiving advice from current university students, young people can develop the social skills and confidence crucial for a successful transition to university.
The Sutton Trust is the UK’s leading charity improving social mobility through education. It works to combat educational inequality and prevent the subsequent waste of talent. It is particularly concerned with realising a system in which young people are given the chance to prosper, regardless of their family background, school or neighbourhood.
Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Trust has since funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people from low and middle income backgrounds, and published over 120 research studies that have had a profound impact on national education policy.
Funded with partners and host universities, the Trust currently supports nearly 2,000 students a year on their flagship summer schools programme.