Written evidence submitted by the St Christopher’s Fellowship
Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds
About St Christopher’s Fellowship
St Christopher’s Fellowship is a charity looking after children and young people in care, on the edge of care and leaving care. We provide children’s homes, semi-independent accommodation, fostering and outreach services (including educational support, therapeutic support and preventative work) across England and the Isle of Man.
The principal factors that contribute to this underachievement, with reference to:
The role of place (reflecting regional variations)
38% of young people we work with in England are white. It is key for young people in this group to receive early help and preventative support. This is often identified through an early help panel, arranged by local authorities and fed into by other stakeholders. Support services cannot always be put in place until a formal safeguarding concern has been raised, usually by the child’s school.
However, the service that young people and families receive is impacted by how well the multi-agency approach is coordinated. As agency remits differ across England, some interventions can feel very fragmented. Some regions may have strong multi-agency working, which achieves positive outcomes for young people, but others do not. Even between local authorities in the same metropolitan area there can be stark divergences. This results in a postcode lottery for young people’s outcomes.
Local authorities do not always have the resource to work with all the families who would benefit from intervention, which means young people slip through the gaps.
The home learning environment
Crowded households with multiple school-age children can make it challenging to establish routine and structure, especially for a single parent. Families may not have the guidance or facilities (such as a computer and internet) for a young person to work well from home. There may even not be appropriate space or furniture within the home to support all children living there to complete their home learning.
24% of young people supported by our outreach teams in England (London) are white. This includes young people who are performing caring responsibilities to support their parent’s physical and / or mental health, but who do not have official status as a carer. In many cases the role is not formalised and only comes to light after discussions between agency networks. These young people therefore have other pressures which detract from their ability to learn well at home.
Looked after children can have their home learning disrupted by placement moves, particularly if they have to change schools or have missed chunks of education. For young people living in residential children’s homes, they have multiple adults around them to help with education. In foster care this is more limited, particularly if you are a single carer. This highlights the differing level of support that young people receive, depending on their placement.
The impact of role models
Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds usually live in deprived areas and communities, which typically have higher levels of crime and poverty alongside less access to resources or travel links. Their parents and extended family may be unemployed and they may live in unsuitable housing. Their peers in the community tend to have the same experiences and there are typically fewer meaningful opportunities. Social media and mainstream media contribute to low self-confidence due to how people from poorer backgrounds are portrayed, both from within and outside their communities. When young people do not have positive role models around them they are less able to identify routes that would help them to move out of their situation.
For example, there are specific areas of London that are known for high levels of gang involvement. In one borough the local Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) is primarily attended by white, working class boys. Research has shown that young people excluded from school and attending a PRU are at higher risk of street level violence, bullying and grooming, which has an impact of their access to education.
This problem does not just affect boys. Over the last few years there has been an increase of girls involved in gangs, typically to hold or transport drugs and firearms on behalf of their boyfriends. This has now been recognised by the authorities, who are doing more to recognise the risks and keep these young people safe. However it highlights a lack of positive role and relationship models for young girls too.
Involvement of an external agency can fill the gap of lack of role model. All of St Christopher’s work is focused on building positive, genuine relationships with young people. This is an effective way of supporting young people to grow their self-confidence, as well as giving them a trusted adult who they can talk about issues with. As an organisation we make sure to praise young people and celebrate their success, so they can recognise how someone strives for them to achieve and aspires for them to do well. More funding to expand our outreach work across our services and the community would make a big difference.
The effects of COVID-19 on this group
Disruption to structure is impacting young people’s mental and physical health. Lack of routine means young people are experiencing disrupted sleeping patterns, which impact on their schoolwork. Some parents do not have the skills to re-impose routine without the help of external influences, so these unhealthy habits become entrenched. This mirrors the experiences of young people who are excluded from education in more normal times.
Education providers are not consistently offering timetables to young people to support their home learning, and even for those attending school due to being on an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) there is a lack of proper education taking place. Having to attend school stigmatises these young people and their families as their peers do not have to, and we are not convinced of the educational benefits of them attending during this time. There is also an understandable fear amongst young people and their families about whether attending school puts them at higher risk of catching the virus. The planned return to schools focuses on younger children so those outside of those year groups will miss out, which could lead to long-term issues.
For young people who usually attend training provisions (e.g. hairdressing, building, et. al), alternative offers have not always been put in place. It is difficult for young people to find work at the moment, especially in trade or service jobs if you have just finished college. We envisage unemployment will have a negative impact on this group of people for a longer period of time, which will lead to lack of income and continuation of the deprivation cycle.
Families who were already “just about managing” thanks to support from foodbanks and community groups may be pushed further into poverty due to job losses, but the outbreak may also negatively impact a whole other group of families if parents lose their jobs and income. This may cause an increase in the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is difficult to maintain positive wellbeing and mental health, which impacts on motivation and may have a lasting effect even once the coronavirus outbreak is over. If white pupils from this background are already experiencing difficulty thriving in education we can assume they struggle to access mental health services too, which will prevent them from receiving the right help.
Our outreach services support young people from white working class backgrounds who are at risk of Child Criminal Exploitation, Child Sexual Exploitation, grooming and county lines. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, drug prices have increased and the quality of the product has reduced. This has led to more violence between gangs due to competition over controlling the market in certain areas. Fewer young people are going on long journeys to transport drugs through the county lines system. However due to how quiet it is on public transport, these young people stand out more so the police have been able to pick it up quickly. Others are using bicycles to travel to further away places, claiming it is for exercise or commuting to work if they are stopped. Overall it is currently harder to track trends and learn of new exploitative factors around individual young people because we are not out and about in the community as much, so do not know what we are facing as yet. We predict that as lockdown is lifted young people will start to share stories of their experiences and any risks they have faced.
The aforementioned difficulty of sustaining or securing employment is creating a need for young people to explore other ways of making money. We believe this will lead to more opportunities for criminals and gangs to exploit young people who are underachieving, particularly as more of them will be in need if we enter economic recession.
Young people in the care system (of all ethnicities) often experience frequent placements moves, which results in disruption to their home life, education and other support services. Due to the lockdown there are fewer options for professionals to network and identify appropriate education or support provisions. There is also an impact on the pastoral care these young people may be receiving through school; as these relationships are built over time, it is difficult to replicate them with a different professional or through remote systems.
It is also proving difficult to access to support that some young people are entitled to. For example, we work with some young people who are known to have additional needs but have no current EHCP and are not receiving any further support. We have an educational support service, which is probing into what support should be available in line with these young people’s rights.
The impacts of this underachievement, both for individuals and for communities
The contextual impact of these young people’s surroundings leads to low self-confidence and lack of aspiration, which ultimately perpetuates the cycle for future generations. There are limited opportunities for young people to improve their socio-economic position as they are geared towards lower paid jobs, such as trades. Young people are likely to follow repeated patterns of behaviour within their family.
Priorities for the Government in terms of tackling this issue, with reference to:
The value of locally-tailored solutions, including youth groups and community organisations
Through our outreach services we provide local solutions working with young people and families in the community. We work in partnership with local authorities and have been funded to run some of these services through ring-fenced pots of money. Although this funding has a positive, life-changing impact for young people, sometimes the specific requirements for ring-fenced funding can be too streamlined and lead to young people who do not fit specific vulnerability criteria missing out on support. This leads to more firefighting support measures further down the line, when they could have benefited from preventative intervention.
Many of the problems our outreach teams now work to address have been caused by cuts to support services introduced through austerity measures. Many of these cuts have eroded the sense of community as there are now no shared spaces where people can come together. For example, youth centres used to offer young people the chance to try new things and access opportunities so they could figure out their passions and life goals. Re-establishing these centres will help professionals to counterbalance more negative pulls and foster resilience, and give young people space to build positive relationships with their peers.
In one local authority we work with, early help services are split into three areas to increase capacity and make it more accessible. This is designed in a way that is specific to the community’s needs. We would welcome other areas adopting this model.
There is also space for advocacy services to do more specifically for this group through targeted support.
The school system
There has been a reduction in pastoral care in lots of schools, especially those that have become academies. Vulnerable groups of young people end up suffering because of this as they lack support. Schools can offer things like lunchtime clubs or homework clubs specifically targeting the core subjects to ensure young people are supported with their education. They could find creative ways to engage the group through hobbies and interests like sport or music. We would also welcome seeing schools develop more community partnerships with charities and local offers, helping young people to achieve through non-school activities. This will grow their self-esteem and give them a clearer idea of their interests.
Exclusions put young people at high risk of exploitation. It is known for gangs to target PRUs when grooming new young people. We are familiar with mentoring schemes within PRUs that make a huge difference, helping young people to address concerns and providing them with a trusted adult to confide in.
There are also high risks associated with off-rolling of young people. This is when they do not attend a provision but are kept on-roll with a reduced timetable or whilst they experience a managed move (such as to a PRU or home-learning) that disrupts their learning. The school will still receive the money for that student although the student won’t be getting the same service that they should be. This means schools are not admitting to disrupting young people’s education. There are instances where schools manipulate the off-rolling or system or are not transparent, so this needs to be better managed and taken into account during Ofsted inspections.