Podcast Episode: Looked after young people and home supervision requirements
Category: Young people
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
JF - John Paul Fitzpatrick
Young people who are looked after at home or are under a Home Supervision requirement make up the largest proportion of young people who are looked after. They have the poorest educational outcomes compared to other groups, yet have been largely neglected by research. John Paul Fitzpatrick of CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland, has studied this group as part of his PhD research. At the Glasgow School of Social Work seminar on 7th February 2013 he described his research methodology, narrative analysis and his findings so far.
JF - What I am going to do is I am going to talk you through a piece of research that I am currently involved in just now which is concerned with looking at young people who are looked after at home or under a Home Supervision requirements view of education and their view of the world, which is quite an exciting piece of research. So I am going to talk you through that and present some very early findings from the research, because the research is still actually ongoing at the moment.
But the first thing I want to do is just set the context. Young people who are under home supervision make up the largest grouping of young people who are looked after, 5,437 out of a population of looked after children that comprises of 16,171. So they make up the biggest grouping in terms of foster care, kinship care, those that are in residential care, and yet all the research, or the vast majority of the research, tends to focus on other groupings and not those that are looked after at home. There are some important exceptions to this, and actually we are very privileged today to have a colleague here, Dr Andressa Gadda, whose PhD did some very important work on this which my research is building on. But there has only been one or two studies done specifically around looked after at home young people’s experience - and none of it actually has been to look at their view of the world in terms of what it feels like, what it means to be under a Home Supervision order and deal with school. So the focus for this really is education - and I mean education in its widest sense - I am not really solely focusing on education, but their whole educational experience and their relationships and how they hold it together in terms of transitions and their journey and their experience of dealing with the issues that they have at home, or indeed at school.
But this group does have the poorest educational outcomes compared to all other groups of looked after children - and the stats are damning, and actually that is what drew me to this study, because it drives me nuts actually … it makes me incredibly angry. I consider it to be an ethical injustice actually in terms of the difference in the stats.
So in terms of attendance alone, looked after at home young people have the poorest attendance - so 78% in terms of the stats per … that’s per figures of thousand. So they have incredibly poor attendance. In terms of exclusions for school - and there is actually kind of some problems with the way the research is collated at Scottish Government level, but they are about eight times more likely to be excluded at school. If you are in foster care, you know, there are still going to be elements of school exclusion happening there and the same for residential care, but the stats are huge for young people that are looked after at home.
A lot of you - most of you in the room are connected to practice, so the reasons for that are not going to be difficult to work out - this is around domestic violence, substance misuse, issues of care and protection, genuine real issues of vulnerability, with compound issues of poverty on top - so there is a whole myriad of different reasons coming together about why this particular grouping suffer disproportionately in terms of educational experience and exclusion. But ironically, with GIRFEC and with the legislative agenda, has never been more in favour of looked after children, all looked after children, yet disproportionally one part, or one grouping of this population are still suffering disproportionately. And I started to think “well why is that? What is going on for this particular grouping”? And started to look at the research base - and that is when I discovered that there were huge gaps in the research group.
There is a participatory element of practice for me about actually saying “well what do young people think about this? What is their view of that … what is their view of their educational experience? What is their views of the supports that they need to be able to cope and function better”? And that is what the purpose of this research is designed to connect with.
There is the positive destination data from schools just in terms of looked after at home - again, only 49% are really moving onto any kind of positive destinations in terms of further education, training and employment - so we are failing collectively as a society, a huge grouping of young people.
So just moving onto my particular study - so that is the context - the context is quite stark in terms of the levels of need that young people who are looked after at home have. So the purpose of my research was to explore young people’s views of what it is like to be under a Home Supervision Order - and I have done that through choosing a methodology which was concerned with narrative analysis. Now some people have cruelly suggested that is because I like to talk and tell stories and listen to stories - and there might have been a small element of that, but actually in terms of a research methodology, I wanted to empower the young people to be able to tell their own stories, in their own words, so that we genuinely can implement practice change by directly listening to young people’s experience. And that is what … it was to try and create some agency for this particular grouping of young people. And what I am in the process of doing is trying to connect the different themes of the interviews that have taken place across Scotland, to try and make some practice recommendations - and some of that I will share with you towards the end of the presentation. And if anyone is interested, what I am drawing on is social capital theory, which is theory which is very much concerned with relationships, with trust, with young people’s … it gives a way of hanging together young people’s experience, to try and make sense of their opinions, of their trust in friends, their relations with adults and significant others in their lives. And it is a good theoretical framework to allow you to explore young people in their whole situation - where they are at in their context - and that is what is underpinning the study in terms of giving it academic validity.
So what I actually have been doing for the last six months is I have embarked on a programme of 23 interviews across three different local authority areas in Scotland. It was supposed to be 15 young people, but people kept saying to me, people in social work teams, social work anagers kept saying “John Paul you are going to have to manage your expectations here - you are going to struggle to get young people to come forward for this study”. And then what happened was we got 23 people and held onto 23 people without actually dropping any for the first part of the study - which I thought was quite interesting actually, just in terms of the assumptions we make about what young people would be wanting to participate. And I will come back to talk to you about … come on to talk about gatekeepers and some of the professional challenges there has been for me, as a researcher in this whole process.
So I have done 23 first round interviews of about 40 minutes to an hour in length with young people in three different authorities. And they are very different. In one authority, young people have been referred who are participating in an alternative curriculum programme which is concerned with using coaching as a vehicle to support young people who are looked after at home, or indeed actually from a mixture of different … some are in residential care and other young people have just been identified, being flagged as being vulnerable - but they have all got coaches who work with them on a particular programme designed to support their education. In the two other authorities they are in a mixture of mainstream provision and specialist provision, and referrals have come from a variety of different stories.
So what I did was, I have taken 23 lots of interviews, I have transcribed them - I had a full head of hair until I started the whole process of transcription - I have aged about 30 or 40 years - but that has been fascinating. And I could have quite easily have said that I would outsource it or pay some poor student to type up the stuff - but there was a bit of me that thought “well I have got an ethical obligation, because these young people have taken the time to tell me their stories, and I want to understand the nuances of the stories and really make the connections between the different events that they are describing to me as they are facing in their lives”. So I made a conscious decision to actually transcribe the data. From that, I made a series of kind of brief case notes, a kind of timeline to try and understand the timeline of events, to look at where the critical events were for young people. Where were the crunch points for young people in their lives in the stories that they were describing? What did they consider to be important, the most important points in their lives where something that they consider to be of significance or value was happening in their lives? And from that, just to make life complicated for myself, I created an interactive presentation - and that actually worked on the iPad, and I went back and sat down with every young person, and that’s the process I am at just now, on the basis for a second interview - to say “last time we met you told me this about your family, you told me this about school, you told me this was your opinion of teachers - am I understanding it right?” And I had pictures, and I will show you one of the presentations that I have made just now, just as a different vehicle for engaging with young people - because for me to sit back and just read to them, or hand them a transcript, you know, that would be making assumptions about literacy, which I didn’t really want to make - I wanted to try and make it something that was more interactive. And I have to say, the young people really, really responded to it - it was incredibly powerful. And I wasn’t sure how it was going to go down - I took a bit of a risk with it - so just interesting in terms of a different way of practicing research with young people to make it more participative for them.
I think I can show you one of the presentations just now that I pulled together, and I will just talk you thought it as an example.
So here we have … the stories that the young people have been telling me are absolutely not linear, right, so when we stand up and do a Powerpoint presentation … well perhaps maybe when I don’t do it and I should be doing it, usually it has a beginning, a middle and an end. But I deliberately chose that I could have interactive presentation style with the young people that wasn’t like that, and allowed us to jump about during their interviews - because that is the way the young people were kind of guiding and leading the interviews. Now in research terms, we talk about being reflexive, about being responsive to what young people are saying, to understanding their whole context and to being light on our feet. Well some of these interviews … I mean I had prepared interview schedules for all the young people, followed a similar interview schedule - yes, great theoretically until you get into the room with them - at which point I got 23 entirely different stories, and there are strong common threads across all of them, but very, very different stories. So I will take you through … this is one of the presentations which actually span out of a young person’s story that I actually completed last week in terms of an interview, and it just … this is a guy, David, I have changed his name - he stays with stepdad, mum, little sister and he himself is 15. We discussed moves - he has moved house 3 times due to antisocial behaviour, due to concerns about his little sister that he spoke about. We deliberately asked questions about where he was living, and I would say to them … and I would get a really strange look back from them - “describe to me your house”? And you would get this strange kind of look as if to say “are you mad?” I would say “well tell me about your house”, and they would say “well what do you mean?” I said “well is it a big house, is it a wee house, is it a quiet house, is it a noisy house?” And that would get them into describing the rhythm and the vibes of the house. But actually, crucially, and in this chap’s case, he is sharing a room with his 4 year old sister, so has nowhere to do homework, has nowhere to do study. So just in terms of the actual pressure on the house - without actually saying “what is going on?", you are starting to get a sense of what was going on. And I found that was another way that young people were more responsive to opening up and talking about their situations that they were facing.
I deliberately asked them about their city - “describe to me what you think of the city? What do you think of your area?” And that was designed to try and work out their view of where they stayed and their view of their situation and whether their situation was comparable to the situations they were in with their friends. “What do you think of the estate that you are staying in? Do you consider it to be a wealthy estate? Is it a poor estate?” And really getting their opinions about the kind of resources and the facilities and the infrastructure that is round about them in terms of where they live. Then we would start to look at school for them, and they would start to open up about their school experience. For David, in particular, his behaviour really started to struggle at primary - it was antisocial behaviour … in fact he was very upfront and I think I have got a quote that is coming up, that he was deliberately provoking teachers and pupils, attention seeking behaviour - he was just really out to cause mischief, he was caught up in a lot of situations with friends. He, in transition to secondary school, found it incredibly difficult - he moved house as he was starting secondary school, struggled to make friends, struggled to get in with the wrong crowd, his behaviour continued to deteriorate, as he describes it. He continued to wind up the teaching staff, he got expelled numerous times from this school and he said something very, very powerful actually about his writing, which I just thought spoke volumes. And it is just one of these things - one of the many stories that spin out of these interviews about things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. But he said … I said “how are you coping with your writing and subjects and stuff at school?” And he said “I dinnae mind as much as I used to mind like, because I am not the best of writers, but before I came here at Northfield my writing was terrible and I just used to never write when I was next to somebody just in case they slagged me or something, but now I couldn’t care”. So there was a whole literacy thing going on for him - and I actually said “well did you ever say to anybody? Do you think the teachers were aware of that? What about your social worker?” And they weren’t - it had been kind of missed, because he had been playing a very clever game of masking that, just by refusing to write. So some of his behaviours and stuff on one level were caused, he felt, by his embarrassment and stigma of writing and literacy.
And of course whilst all this was going on, as he was getting expelled, as he was truanting, he was picking up numerous charges - and that enabled us to talk about the kind of behaviours that he is involved in, his trust in his peer group, and for him actually he said something incredibly powerful, he said “John Paul”, he said “I don’t trust anyone, I have just learned to trust myself”. And actually, do you know, across 23 interviews, I think I heard that about 17 times. So stuff about complete absence of trust, not just in terms of like professionals, but peers as well, and family in particular, which is quite interesting. And that might not … I mean that was news to me - I mean I hadn’t really considered that as a possibility. It might be something you are aware with in terms of patterns of behaviour that you see or hostility that you encounter in terms of practice, or I am not sure. But that way, I thought there is something here about trust. And actually in the second round of interviews, I started to ask them about trust in their neighbours and communities and stuff that they stay in, linking it back to this idea of social capital. And again, very low levels of trust in family and neighbours and wider neighbours. And also actually, a very low participation across the study of young people involved in any kind of youth work, youth participation, any kind of after-school provision, so very low participation in any other kind of programmes apart from ones that they were maybe prescribed to be involved in, in terms of be it family group therapy or any other aspects of provision where they have been more kind of pushed or guided, steered, mentored, encouraged strongly into.
I started to ask him about what he was doing, and he was dead upfront, you know, saying “it’s breach of the peace, assault, vandalism”, everything pretty much, just being a “little shit”, as he described it.
I asked about Panels and their story of what it is like to be at the Children’s Panel. He said something very affirming - now I got a real mixed response from young people who were looked after at home’s experiences of Panels, but he said he was listened to by the Panel. And I said “well how did you know that they were listening?” He said “well they were making eye contact”. But, you know, something so simple - he could see that they were writing and stuff and nodding and actually encouraging him when they were speaking - but across the study a lot of young people were saying the absolute opposite. But it is a mixed bag. But just in terms of how valued they felt, how much power they felt they had in the situation … because obviously all of these young people are engaged with the Children’s Panel, and we have got a right mixed bag of narratives and stories about that that we have collated during this process. But just he was happy - he came away from that experience feeling quite valued - he had had his say, he knew he was being listened to, he felt respected.
There is a huge issue across the study, and David’s story is quite interesting, in terms of relationships and continuity of relationships. He felt particularly kind of let down because his social worker had went to Australia - he was devastated, he felt he had trust with that particular social worker, he was absolutely kind of gutted. And then after that, for him the relationships just didn’t work, he didn’t find anybody that he connected with, that he felt safe to open up to, and valued - and so he had another 3 social workers after this social worker, this guy that was quite important to him. But for me it says something about the trust that is there, even though they don’t articulate that as trust, so he did … although he was saying quite clearly he doesn’t trust anyone, he did have a relationship with someone. Now whether that person, and without knowing the full picture in terms of a number of people that have maybe jettisoned out of his life, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for him … there is a whole series of interpretations going on there, and I appreciate that. But what is consistent across the study is that young people do get sick of telling their stories - and I had to keep apologising, because very early on in this study I quickly realised that I was part of that - so here is me turning up going “oh hiya, I am here for 2 interviews, I am never going to see you again, oh by the way, please do spill your entire story to me”. And I did actually apologise 23 times as I was doing this. But young people are very, very open. But there was one person in the study that said to me “I have had 9 social workers in 5 years”, and I said “right, okay, well how did that feel?” And he said “well that was 9 times I had to tell my story that I didn’t want to tell anybody in the first place”. So he was conscious of that - that repeating the story in his narrative, re-telling his story. So I just think it is something to bear in mind, you know, in terms of the importance of relationships to young people’s lives that are vulnerable that we are seeking to work with an support.
And I always asked a question about the future - so across the 23 interviews - and with David he said that he was worried that he wasn’t going to get a job, that he was just going to be like a bum, he wasn’t sure how he was going to turn out. Later on in the interview he actually went on to say … I said “so what are you good at?” And he turned round and said “I am not good at anything”. And I kept it going - I said “well tell me more about that”. He said “John Paul, I can’t think of anything that I am actually good at”. So there was a real poverty of aspiration - that is echoed out of the 23 interviews, I would suggest there is about 19 of them - there is an absolute dearth of aspiration, of talent, of ambition, of any sense of career plan, of any hope, in many cases, for the future. And I found that quite difficult to deal with, I have to say. And there was a youth work bit of me that wanted to turn the recorder off and say “aaahhh, get a grip, of course you have got talent and stuff”. But I felt an ethical responsibility just to get into some dialogue off line about that. And it was interesting.
But what blew me away with this, and just in terms of practice in interview young people who are vulnerable. Like I was saying earlier, I couldn’t predict how these interviews were going to go. He appeared, he bounded into the room last week and he said “oh I have been really looking forward to you coming”, and I said “oh right, I didn’t even think you would remember me, wow, how come?” And he said “well I am in a rap band now and I have actually brought the rap in, I knew I was going to speak to you today, and I have brought the rap in and do you want to hear it?” And there’s me sitting with the interview schedule thinking “I’ve got 5 interviews to do today and he wants to talk about his rap”. And I thought well no, the whole point of this is I need to go with this. So we did, and actually … and I have got the audio - I asked him if we could have it, and he said “oh I want people to hear it”. And this guy, in one minute, twenty second’s worth of audio told me so much more about his story than I actually probably gathered in the previous kind of 60 minutes of interview - and it was incredibly, incredibly powerful. But it does highlight the issues that he is facing, as he sees it, in terms of his view of the world - and he has been using song as a medium to do it. His teachers didn’t even know he was doing it - he is on YouTube, I got the video off YouTube, and it has got 900 hits on YouTube, and nobody knows around about him … because I did, I said “so let’s go through it - your case worker? No. Your key worker? No. Surely a teacher knows you are doing this? No. Nobody knew he was doing it, but he chose to bring it in, in a very, very short space of time, like with me taking the time over the 2 interviews, to build a connection with him - I was able to get to a stage where he felt comfortable enough to share stuff. And all we were doing was engaging in pretty much storytelling and very laid back informal chat. But actually, through rap there he is disclosing … and I know nothing about rap - I mean there are a few folk in here who know me and know that my musical tastes extend to Heather Small and M-People pretty much, to be honest, it’s dire. And that interview went on for 50 minutes - we had 20 minutes to speak about rap, where I had a crash course in rap - and in that rap he is disclosing stuff about his dad being in prison, and you are getting much more of the context and stuff. And he wants people to hear that song, and he wants people to know that he has got that talent. But that is missed - he is just labelled. And he himself doesn’t appreciate the talent probably that he has got. So I just found that interesting, by engaging, where the conversations can lead to and what that maybe means for us in terms of practice about the approaches that we use, how bureaucratised you become in terms of outcomes. I nearly did it. See if I had said to him “hold on with your rap a minute here - I have got an interview to do here - I need to get through this or I am not going to get the data for my study and then I am in real trouble”. And there was a bit of me that nearly did it - and I caught myself. And then it’s absolutely powerful.
But just in terms of the work, I think, you know, there is a real need to be kind of responsive and reflective about it. One of the things, in terms of the intention behind the study though, was to try and build up a chronology of what was going on in terms of their stories. What I discovered, and I didn’t appreciate, but I absolutely do now - is that young people struggle to deal with kind of issues of temporality, in terms of time and space, in terms of the way … that ability to reflect, in a way. Likes of you were asking “when did that happen?” Now there were a few cases where it was quite clear that maybe young people’s brains, because they disclosed cannabis usage, there might have been a correlation between that and cannabis usage - but actually, generally speaking, young people struggled to work out when things happened. So time had a different meaning, and we had to sort of work together quite closely to try and ascertain any kind of timeline. But they just didn’t think like that way.
Also, I had a vision that, from doing a lot of work, in terms of work with adults, adult interviewing - when you ask open-ended questions, you get lovely big flowing responses. Well that absolutely wasn’t the case at all. So the interview schedule - I mean that is why it did go out the window, because I would be saying “tell me more about that. What do you think about that? What do you really mean by that?” And then just trying to find other hooks and ways of engaging with them. But I’ll tell you why I achieved as much as I did after only about 50 minutes - some interviews were shorter - I didn’t connect with everybody - there was 2 young people who were not on a place on the day where meaningful dialogue was going to take place. The average interview was about 40 minutes, there was one 8 minute and 13 second interview of my life, whereby it was incredibly, incredibly difficult - where it got to the point where I said “if you don’t want to be here, it’s absolutely okay, you know”, and he going “no, I want to be here”. I was like “right, okay. So what do you think about this” - “right, I see you are shrugging your shoulders, what do you think about this?” And I was like “can I just ask you something - is this better than the class that you are in just now?” And he went “uh huh”, and I was like “right, okay, I get what is happening here”.
But what did make a difference in terms of being able to do the work, was I worked with the people - I worked with the teaching staff very closely and I worked with the coaching staff in the other institution to get hanging about time with them just before we went in - even 5 minutes whereby we weren’t in the interview situation and we were talking about football or we were talking about whatever - an attempt to connect and just build a spark of rapport and trust. And that absolutely made a difference - because when that never happened, the interview generally … the first half of the interview, you would be working really much harder to build that kind of connection.
Part of the challenge though I did find with the study was dealing with other professionals and their perceptions of young people, and allowing access to participants in the study. So in the 3 local authorities, I went through senior management teams, I then went through ethical approval in all the 3 local authorities. It then got filtered through to a head of service, and I would meet with the head of service, who were generally actually very, very positive at a strategic level about the study and could see that it bore importance and could yield important results. But where it became difficult was at the local level, when you were dealing with individual head teachers, or particular social work teams. Some head teachers in some schools, for example, and I am only picking on one profession - don’t all relax because I am coming your way next in terms of social work - but just in terms of the amount of power they had to enable or block access. Some head teachers - it happened in 3 schools in one local authority, which shall remain nameless, actually refused to allow access to even make a pitch about the study to a 15 or a 16 year old without getting parental consent first, to even speak to the young people about whether or not they want to participate in the study. So I would have had to have written home to say “can your son participate in a study that he or she knows absolutely nothing about”, and then retrospectively go and speak to the young people. Now for me, I did struggle with that, because I thought “well I am trying to empower young people here” - I just want to make a quick, one minute pitch to say “doing a study, if you fancy it, this is what it will involve, this is what it will mean - can you take this letter home and get it signed if you are up for it”. And that worked fine everywhere else, but just some head teachers, just in terms of either processes or safeguarding, or for whatever set of reasons, that became a real issue. And actually in that … one of the authorities, only 2 interviews have taken place - so there was a very uneven spread across the 3 authorities, so the other 2 authorities was where the bulk of the interviews took place - and just a difference of approach. And I am not sure what was driving it and I may not find out - but that was quite interesting.
But in terms of adult perceptions, I had to constantly filter out what teachers and social workers and everybody encountered on the periphery when I was running into people on the periphery of doing the interview with the young people wanted to tell me about that young person - that was either none of my business or a huge sweeping statement or a set of assumptions on behalf of other people. Teachers saying “oh I wouldn’t bother speaking to wee Johnny, he’s absolutely useless, he is not going to tell you anything anyway”. And they would turn out be the most productive, fascinating interviews. So just the whole having to strip back all of that and filter out that … and I did it politely, but filter out all that extraneous noise that could interfere with my perceptions. But if that is what some adults are doing daily to young people, then what chance is there in terms of their ambition and that poverty of aspiration stuff that I was talking about earlier?
Just in terms of … and this is an issue for me more than probably anybody else - but like when I went back to do the second round interviews … so I did 23 first round interviews, got all this rich data, did the presentations, prepared them all, drove all the way to another local authority area - only 6 out of 14 interviews over the course of that week took place, and that’s because the young people I had been working with in that first set of interviews have either been expelled, have either been engaged in emergency placement moves for reasons of protection or safety, or indeed young people were just absent and voted with their feet and were truanting. So I was being really, really hard on myself until some colleagues pointed out “John Paul, that actually speaks volumes in itself - that is where the young people are at. That speaks volumes for the chaos and stuff that is going on in their lives”. So getting the 23 in the first instance was a bit of a fluke, so there is still another 10 interviews scheduled to take place, and I am going to keep … I will probably get one more crack at going back to that other local authority to see if anything has changed for them, if we can get access to them. But that does speak volumes in terms of the vulnerability of this particular grouping, and I think that is worthy of some attention, and I will be exploring that during the course of the study. So that was some of the challenges.
Now let me share with you just generally then what I have uncovered. According to the young people, the reasons for them being under the order, the supervision requirement itself were absolutely varied. The vast bulk of them, it was for reasons of non-attendance at school, some were for reasons of care and protection, and others it was for offending grounds. I mean there was one wee guy, an amazing chap, who just took huge pride in the fact that he had 17 crime files and 40 offences and stuff, and that is where he was at - his was clearly linked to offending behaviour.
I have made the point earlier about the need for continuity and stability in terms of family and professional relationships - it is absolutely crucial. I mean a lot of the young people expressed an utter frustration at just the changing over of professionals, and the sheer numbers of professionals in their lives requiring the same telling of stories and their views and opinions.
Quite worryingly, and this is a practice implication that I can think of off the top of my head - a lot of the young people didn’t understand what the order was about or where it started and stopped, and in about 2 or 3 cases, what it was. It kind of meant to them that they had a social worker, but they didn’t really understand … it was clear to me they didn’t understand anything about it.
It does throw up an interesting question about independent advocacy for those that are under home supervision, in terms of being entitled to the same levels of independent advocacy and support that those in residential care would get, for example. So that is quite interesting - just that lack of awareness. Something is going wrong somewhere if they don’t quite get that and connect with that. So I think there is a real need for engagement and thinking about how we communicate messages to young people about issues that are impacting on them in their lives, in ways that they can relate to and understand.
A lot of the young people said they really valued it though - and actually there were a few that said that they were going to, at their next Panel, actually seek representation to have the order continued, because they felt it was helping them with their education in some way. So I mean … that came across about 3 or 4 times - the vast majority felt negative towards it, but there were a good few that did, which I thought was quite interesting.
This notion of coaching - it was clear that the participants that I interviewed who were participating in coaching, that was making an absolute huge difference to their lives in them being able to hold it together. They all spoke about higher levels of trust with their coaches - these people that have been employed to support them, to virtually lift them and lay them to school, to interface with the family - but the level of trust, the value that they got, they felt … they all cited examples of how that had contributed to their increased attendance at school, and I just thought there is absolutely something worthy of exploring about what is going on in terms of that coaching relationship and the difference that is making to their lives. But I found that absolutely fascinating, and there is definitely something to be explored in that.
Many of the questions in the study were geared around their parent’s views of education or how their parents did at school, or the value that the family and their pals and other people in their peer networks plays on education. Most of them were saying “very little point to school - nobody is really asking them about their education in the house”. In some cases, some people were saying that actually some professionals weren’t even asking them about school - whereas some people actually were also saying the converse of that though - they were saying that their mum, their dad, stepdad, whoever - were saying “you need to get a job because this is how you are going to get out of this situation - you need to find something, you need to stick in a bit”. But a lot of them, an absence of any kind of positive role modelling in terms of education or value of education. And I spoke earlier about that absolute kind of poverty of aspiration.
There is something interesting emerging in the study around the power of siblings. So brothers and sisters, and older brothers and sisters, about the untapped potential that they have got to encourage young folk who are in vulnerable situations, to encourage them into supporting them with their education. I got examples of older brothers and sisters finding out that their wee brother … the ones that I were interviewing, were dogging it. So mobile phones getting taken off them, and laptops getting taken off them until they actually went into school and stuff - so them actually stepping into that breach. So there is something about the power of siblings and that untapped potential about how, as professionals, we work in the context of the whole family to help brothers and sisters understand the potential that they have got to influence siblings’ behaviour.
What this whole journey has shown to me is family support is crucial in terms of educational progress, and we need to support young people earlier and quicker where they are at, in the context that they are in. From what the young people are saying across the study, it appears to be a bit of a lottery who else is working with the families and whether they have got any other workers. And many of the young people were able to talk about just the lack of anything else for them to do, and they are waiting for resources, that they have had Panels cancelled. So just the stuff, you know, that support around that examination of the resource that is available for the family to draw on, to enable them to be supported.
There is definitely something about transition - there is absolutely something about young people in vulnerable situations holding it together at primary school, being able to kind of almost like just get through it, you know, with bits and pockets of disruption, deal with whatever is going on in the family home and the impact on them. But combined with the stress of moving into a bigger situation about changing school, the business of the school. They all talked, or a lot of them, sorry, talked about the busyness of school, about feeling lost, about feeling that they weren’t listened to, about not being able to cope with the size of it. So quite a lot of them were sitting in pupil support units and bases as a result. But it just seems to be that instability - it just becomes the catalyst for which then presents itself as non-attending behaviour or disruptive behaviour. The vast bulk of the young people in the study had a positive primary school experience, apart from about one or two, then first year, second year it just absolutely implodes - and yet the young people were talking about nothing having changed particularly. Now that might be to do with how honest they were with me, but there may just be something in there about transition.
Here’s a quote here “if a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should actually teach the way they want to learn”. So maybe we are trying to kind of shoehorn people into kind of systems and units that they don’t necessarily fit, and we should be making alternate provision and being more creative about what we are trying to do to support vulnerable young people in terms of their education - if we are truly aiming in Scotland to raise their aspirations.
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