It has been well reported that the educational qualifications and university access of Looked After Children remains poor, despite recent improvements and targeted initiatives. John Lyon’s Charity has been conscious of the need to work with Looked After Children for many years, but apart from some targeted projects delivered by Arts institutions, the vehicle and mechanism for creating a project to have a wider impact, has not been obvious.
In 2010 the Charity’s advisor, Martyn Kempson, met with Looked After Children teams from five our local authorities in order to understand how they each worked, what the current issues were and how they felt extra resources could most usefully be deployed. Under Martyn’s guidance, the Charity and five ‘Virtual Headteachers’ from Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster developed a joint initiative to pool their skills and experience, share contacts and resources and design programmes to work across local authority boundaries.
Coincidentally, this scheme was being developed at the same time as Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster were moving towards becoming a Tri-Borough for the delivery of certain services.
Three themes emerged as being the most important in enhancing the life opportunities of Looked After Children:
- Raising literacy
- Promoting self-reliance through group work, expeditions and residential opportunities
- Increasing access to sport, recreation and drama
To get the ball rolling, we awarded each local authority a grant of £5,000 to spend on small-scale activities. Once these had proved their worth, the group met again to discuss how they could develop a larger project to maximize resources and utilize the experiences they had gained. Each authority was then awarded a grant of £10,000 per annum for three years to providing opportunities for Looked After Children. In early 2014, Harrow joined the initiative.
The initiative was intended to promote sharing resources and encourage the authorities to work together to maximize resources and provide a wide variety of activities for Looked After Children to access. Since the project started, it has been obvious where there are opportunities for greater partnership working – for residential breaks for example. The boroughs also divided up into two obvious geographic groupings: Brent, Ealing and Harrow found it easy working together, as did the boroughs in the Tri-Borough, for obvious reasons.
Activities have included Text Now (a literacy initiative), a Duke of Edinburgh programme and a Culture Pass that can be used to access a wide variety of arts and cultural activities. The Arvon Foundation’s creative writing residential week has been extremely popular, as has Synergy Theatre Company workshops. Each of those initiatives initially started in one borough, but extended to others as different authorities gained confidence in trying new things.
In order for the management and monitoring of the scheme not to be unduly time-consuming, uncomplicated processes have been agreed and each Virtual Head has been made responsible for a specific initiative. The project’s success so far has come down to the personalities of the people involved (as with any initiative), who have seen the potential to build bridges between local authorities and to share knowledge, resources and ideas, always with the benefits to their young people at the forefront of their minds.