It's Time to Make Education Count for Young Carers

10/09/2012 22:00 BST | Updated 10/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Are children who don't attend school really troubled as the government would have us believe? Or is there more going on behind closed doors which impacts on their ability to do well in school?

At Family Action we support a very important but often hidden group of children and young adults caring for parents or other family members who are dealing with long term illnesses or substance misuse. The young carers we support in areas across England including Nottinghamshire, County Durham, Manchester, Luton, Islington and Camden and Windsor and Maidenhead range from 5 to 24 years old.

We have been helping Young Carers at Family Action for years through our Young Carers services; organising activities for them to get a break from caring and working with whole families to support parents to get the help they need so caring roles can be reduced.

When we asked our young carers what they wanted us to campaign about raising awareness of caring roles with teachers and young people was the response. That's why today we're launching our Be Bothered! Make Education Count for Young Carers campaign with a new report highlighting the problems that young carers face at school. The report includes testimony from young people, their families, teachers and other education professionals. This campaign was initiated by the young carers we work with through our services.

The many responsibilities at home that young carers have often means their education suffers, with problems in concentration, behaviour and poor attendance. The role of teachers is crucial to improving outcomes for young carers at school. However, in the interviews conducted for the Be Bothered report, 72% of teachers said that they did not know the number of young carers in school and over 64% were unaware of the number of young carers in their classroom. Both teachers and young carers felt that by disclosing their caring role at school, young carers would receive more understanding and support from both their peers and teachers.

Rather than only encourage young carers to open up at school about their caring role, we would suggest that schools to work to improve their ability to identify a young carer. One of the ways this could be achieved is by schools working more closely together with local young carers services. We also recommend schools adopt policies and procedures to identify and provide packages of support for young carers in school. Examples of these are creating young carers champions in school, providing counselling, regular liaison with parents; intensive family support to address serious attendance and behaviour issues; and young carer peer networks within school. By identifying young carers and providing them with the right support, both young carers and schools will benefit, as more awareness about the situation will reduce unexplained absence and improve behaviour and disruption in the classroom.

However, improving outcomes for young carers isn't just about schools. Local authorities and government have an important role to play. Government announcements increasingly stigmatising poor attendance and bad behaviour can have an impact and add pressure to young carers lives. With punctuality and attendance being key priorities for both the government and schools, both will benefit from a better understanding of the reasons behind poor attendance and behaviour.

You can see our full recommendations to schools, local authorities and Government in our report. The Children and Families Bill provides an opportunity to introduce a duty on schools to identify and assess vulnerable pupils and provide adequate support for them. The Pupil Premium is also a key tool for schools to better support young carers. Government should monitor this and ring-fenced the Premium so that spending reaches those pupils who need it most.

Improving education for the most vulnerable is vital if the Government are serious about social mobility. It's time for us all to work together to Make School Count for Young Carers.