Facing reduced harm but are children in need still not achieving?

Monday, October 21, 2019

Category: Blog

Professor Judy Sebba

Children in need are half as likely to achieve strong passes in English and Maths GCSE, when controlling for SEN, low income, ethnicity, EAL and school moves, even 4 years after their CIN status has ended, according to the government review on children in need (CIN) published in June 2019.

This suggests that whatever support is being provided during the child’s designation as ‘in need’ may be making a significant contribution to their protection from harm, but is failing to facilitate adequate educational progress.

Children in need are defined in the report as those who are accessing social care support for safeguarding and/or welfare purposes, including disabled children. The review provides some challenging figures – 1.6 million (1 in 10) children ‘ever’ needed a social worker over the 6 years from 2012-18. Nearly two-thirds of these pupils live in families where there is domestic abuse, mental illness and/or alcohol/substance abuse. These young people are in 98% of schools, with 10-20% of the school population in half of all secondary schools being identified as children in need. They are twice as likely to be admitted to school at an unusual time of year, three times more likely to be persistently absent and four times more likely to be permanently excluded.

The review predictably notes that safety, stability and educational outcomes are linked: the longer a child is in need or the more significant the risk of harm, the greater the impact on education. Hence, while being in school can help to keep children safe whether at risk in or outside their home, improving outcomes also requires us to address the reasons why they needed a social worker in the first place. Children in need benefit from whole school approaches (such as the Alex Timpson Programme on Attachment and Trauma in Schools) that benefit all pupils, alongside reasonable adjustments and targeted interventions specifically for them. The children in need consulted in the review wanted adults to be sensitive but ambitious. Safety and stability must be pursued alongside, not as a precursor, to high aspirations.

In 2015, we published a report focusing mainly on ‘children looked-after’ in which we concluded from the 2013 GCSE cohort that providing (relatively stable) care protects children’s educational achievement since those in longer-term care did better than those in need and those in shorter-term care (Educational progress of looked after children in England (pdf). A further project funded by the Nuffield Foundation (and led by Prof David Berridge at Bristol University in collaboration with the Rees Centre) is currently interrogating the educational progress of children who have ‘ever’ been in care or in need.

Should the recommendations in the government’s review have gone further perhaps?

The importance of identifying this group in national data collection, school, local authority and national monitoring and inspection might improve the targeted services that they receive. Reducing the current 45-day limit on annual fixed term exclusions (a recommendation in the Timpson Exclusions review published earlier this year) will benefit children in need in particular and greater information sharing between social care and education might reduce these exclusions. Both the children in need (CIN) Review and the Exclusions Review emphasise the importance of improving the staffing and quality of Alternative Provision, but structurally this provision can only ever be a stop-gap since their size and structure limit the breadth of curriculum and specialist teaching provided.

Supporting children in need to make greater progress will undoubtedly be more likely if the recommendations made for extending Pupil Premium to all children in need (two-thirds are currently eligible) and extending Virtual School Services to this population are implemented. However these require additional resources that seem unlikely in the current climate.

Less resource intensive is ensuring some coverage on teaching children in need in both initial teaching training and professional development that might make the culture of mainstream schools more conducive to keeping these pupils in school and being more confident to address their difficulties.

DfE Children in Need (CIN) Review 2019

Timpson Review of School Exclusions May 2019

Related Rees Centre research:

Linking Care and Educational Data: The Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England. Overview Report 2015 pdf

The Educational Attainment and Progress of Children in Need and Children in Care 

Alex Timpson Attachment and Trauma Programme in Schools

This blog post is written by Professor Judy Sebba, Rees Centre.
Contact Judy: judy.sebba@education.ox.ac.uk