THE BLOG

Education, Much More Than Box Ticking

08/12/2015 11:12 GMT | Updated 08/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Educational outcomes are easy to analyse, put in tables, and condemn and congratulate people for - but all too often it is forgotten that the focus of education should be on the child, on their needs, their wishes, and their aspirations.

The provision of a rounded education is key to ensuring that all children have the opportunity of a positive adulthood. When people talk about the future of young people, the rhetoric has changed so much over the years from jobs for life a few years ago, to current estimations that people could have upwards of 40 jobs in a lifetime. To limit children is to shorten their horizons, and that's why The Fostering Network is committed to expanding them.

Fostering is an issue devolved to the Governments sitting in Westminster, Holyrood, the National Assembly for Wales, and The Northern Ireland Assembly, and I'm proud to be the chief executive of a charity that works so progressively across these areas. For example, in Northern Ireland, The Fostering Network delivers a programme of work that takes a more holistic view of education, one that is proving to help more and more children and young people achieve their ambitions.

Fostering Achievement is a programme that works will all five statutory health trusts in Northern Ireland. It is publicly funded and delivered on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland by The Fostering Network, and provides bespoke educational support and resources to looked after children living in foster care. The scheme also offers all foster carers additional tailored support to improve the educational outcomes for our most vulnerable group of children.

The early intervention that Fostering Achievement provides for children in foster care is essential in making sure that we help to steer children onto a positive path towards their future. But in isolation this is not enough. What we're able to do with children is provide support, equipment, training, and vitally a voice that says 'we believe in you' throughout their whole childhood. We are aspirational for all of the children and young people we work with, and we never let anyone forget that. We are ambitious, we are proud, and we are there for the entirety of a young person's journey through care. We dare to have aspirations for children where others don't.

We are working with children, as they spend their years in care, where they will develop and grow most as individuals, to make sure that their resilience, confidence, and strength is growing so that when they enter the world as an independent adult they will stand proudly on both feet. Some have said in the past that by providing this support we're setting young people up to fail when they reach adulthood, but on the contrary, it is the responsible thing to do.

We have become increasingly aware of the importance of the Fostering Achievement programme in supporting the aspirations of children and young people in foster care. Working with foster and kinship carers as primary educators is key to our success as are the close partnerships with education and health which enable us to provide very practical and individual support to more than 1300 children each year. Education in its broadest sense is crucial to providing young people with the skills and knowledge they need to make choices to reach their full potential, we are very proud of the part we play in that.

What we're doing in Northern Ireland is more than the crisis intervention to ensure that children do just well enough in exams, while not preparing them for life and work. We're focussing on longevity, ambition, and making a commitment to every child who enters foster care that the whole fostering community will tirelessly support them to do as well as they can in whatever direction they wish to take. Education can help young people stay out of the judicial system, where care experienced young people are vastly over represented, and they can then grow and live the lives that they deserve.

Amy McCullough, 17, an aspiring artist who has been a recipient of support from the Fostering Achievement scheme, said: "From a young age I found comfort in creating art, filling notebooks with my own comics and characters. I went on to devote my time studying art at school and in my own time, and when I began to move towards a more professional level The Fostering Network helped me obtain the equipment I needed to take the next step with my art. I've gone on to sell my art around the world and at comic conventions, getting published in magazines and featured on art websites. In the past year I've achieved an A* in my AS Level Art and plan to do the same in my final year of coursework, but this time even better!"

Fostering Achievement provided a wide range of art resources for Amy, ranging from books on art and manga drawing to sketchbooks, paints, pencils and specialist pens. She has produced an extensive range of artwork and has already received commissions from all over the world. She also exhibited at the MCM Comic Con alongside other artists in Belfast earlier this year, and has been featured in an article called, 'The Best in Western Talent' in the art magazine NEO.

Children in receipt of one to one tuition provided by the Fostering Achievement programme are showing impressive progress towards attaining much improved educational outcomes. The Fostering Network's most recent figures (2012/13) show that 50 per cent of those receiving tuition gained 5 or more GCSEs in grades A* - C, compared to 27 per cent of all looked after children taking these exams. We know that this approach is working, and we want to continue to use learning from the innovative programmes of work we are running in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, together so we can benefit all children who live with foster carers.

If we invest in children who are living in foster care, then we're investing in society with a guarantee that it will be paid back in abundance. Investment in foster care, in education support for children in care, and delegating authority to the foster carers who know the children in their care best can go a long way towards enabling young people to continue down the path of positivity and to a successful adulthood.