I completed a piece of research for my MA Education and had what I am about to share with you accepted for publication in a journal. However, the amendments required by the journal left me feeling that they ought to just rewrite it! I have therefore decided that I shall share the article on my own website; I suspect it will be far better read that way, if not quite so well academically written had I made the amendments!

What I am publishing here is a condensed version of a 20,000 word dissertation; condensed to around 7,000 words. Of course, this is a very long article for a ‘blog’ post so please do get yourself a cuppa and somewhere comfortable to relax. I hope you enjoy reading some of the findings as much as I enjoyed listening to the participants sharing their stories.


An area that has received a lot of attention and focus in regard to looked after children is education. Statistics have shown consistently that children living away from home under perform at every key stage within education. Looked after children are five times more likely to face a fixed term exclusion and twice as likely to experience a permanent exclusion (Department for Education, 2017). This study focuses on what impact, if any, there has been on education and employment on care experienced adults who left care in the 1970’s and 1980’s and were excluded from school.

The research question was explored using interviews with the participants and focused on their personal views, their understanding of exclusion and their ideas about impact. The power of the education relationship was the most significant finding.

The rich dialogues between the researcher and the researched offer a narrative on education across the life course of those who have been looked after away from home and excluded from school that suggests a strong desire to engage with education into adulthood. Relationships and their impact upon the individual, negatively and positively, raise questions about impact on the participants but also the perceived understanding of impact that teachers and social workers have of their input.

In conclusion, the data collected provides answers about impact and the journey that had been undertaken to recover a lost education. These findings are important as they inform further research. They offer a different narrative about what happens to adults who were looked after away from home as children across the life course and enable some insights for educators about their opportunity for positive impact and the results that this can bring, that ultimately stay with a person throughout their life.


The number of children who become looked after by the Local Authority has risen exponentially since 2010 rising from 64,440 to 72,670 (Department for Education, 2017) which is just under 1% of the 11.5 million children in England[1]. In addition, outcomes for children looked after away from home can often present a poor picture. Whether these collected statistics are around mental health, education, homelessness, addiction or criminality, this small element of the population, can be over represented in areas of concern that can linger and define across the life course (National Audit Office, 2015). Statistics in all the above areas on this cohort of children and young people are collected annually by Local Authorities who then provide the Department for Education (DfE) with the information. This is undertaken up to the age of 21 years old and then all data collection ceases. Prior to The Care Leavers Strategy in 2014, data was only collected up to the age of the year a young person turned 18 years old.

One of the areas that has received a lot of attention and focus has been education, demonstrated in the creation of Virtual Schools who are set up within a Local Authority to oversee the education of all looked after children (and ‘previously looked after’ or ‘adopted children’ as of September 2018).  Statistics have shown consistently that children living away from home under perform at every key stage yet education, it has been argued, can offer a key opportunity by which young people can escape the challenges from their birth families that led them into care (Jackson, 2010).  Along with underperforming, figures in the latest statistical collection from the DfE, show that looked after children are also five times more likely to face a fixed term exclusion and twice as likely to experience a permanent exclusion (DfE, 2017) and it is this area of exclusion that will be explored in this article.

Unravelling the impact of “excluding the excluded” across the life course is motivated in part by my professional career in working with vulnerable children and their families in a multitude of settings over the past few decades but also from my personal experience of being a looked after child in the 1980’s who was excluded from two Secondary Schools. I have long since understood that my personal experience and my professional career are not two separate things. They are deeply intertwined, and it feels imperative that I make that explicit in any research capacity so there is a transparency about my motivations, my desire and my attachment to wanting the subject to receive far more attention than I believe it has.

Research Focus

As a “successful” adult who knows many other “successful” adults with similar childhood experiences, my curiosity about what happens to care experienced adults once we have left the system known as “care” and what creates success later on in life, can only be described of as unsatisfied by current data. As no formal data is collected beyond 21 years old, it is a challenge to make any assertions at all about what happens in a person’s life to move beyond “poor outcomes.”

In addition, the term “exclusion,” beyond data collection definitions, is not as straight forward as its definition would suggest as shown by Atkinson (2012, 2013) and O’Brien (2016).  I myself spent the best part of a year alone in a music room in my first secondary school and I have talked with others about not being allowed to attend certain school outings or they were sent home early or asked not to come in sometimes. It is plausible that this exploration may find this unclassified, unmonitored and “silent” exclusion to be more common than it has been previously thought to be.

Therefore, the focus of my enquiry will be upon the impact on education and employment on care experienced adults who came out of care during the 1970’s and 1980’s and who have experienced school exclusion. Due to the complexity alluded to earlier regarding the term ‘exclusion’, this term will be defined by the participant rather than by the DfE.

Overall Research Aim and Individual Research Objectives

The overall aim of this research is to advance the understanding of the impact on school exclusion upon employment and education across the life course for care experienced adults who left care in the 1970’s and 1980’s. With only a handful of pieces of research on the care experienced community post 25 years old, knowledge across the life course is decidedly lacking. Within the overall aim therefore, there is a desire to broaden knowledge in this area.

Specifically, the objectives of this research were to:

The scope of this study was to focus on education and employment across the life course when looking at “impact.” However, it must be acknowledged at this point that the threads that may join the experiences together will be unlikely to stray far from other areas of impact such as mental health, criminality, homelessness. While the size and scope of this study will not allow an exploration of those areas, it would be hard to ignore how they may all interrelate even though they cannot be explored within the question.

Participants were a purposive sample of five care experienced adults who identified as leaving care in the 1970’s and 1980’s and self-assessed as having been excluded from school.

Semi Structured interviews were used to gather qualitative data where more subtle anecdotal data could be collected. This helped also locate any patterns in experience and build a picture of any specific vulnerabilities to exclusion. What also may emerge are whether there are any missing protective factors that promote resilience to being excluded alongside what helped or hindered in terms of moving forward.

Value of This Research

The literature review highlighted and validated an initial concern that there is little focus on care experienced adults within research, from Governmental Departments or within policy. The reasons for this may be:

  • Access to participants can be a challenge as often people simply do not wish to disclose their experiences;
  • Trust in the process, for example, what will happen if I take part? Will anything change?
  • The history of this cohort is politically complex and some could argue, dangerous, especially if we locate this within the challenges of the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry, for example, and;
  • There is no legislative purpose/requirement for doing so.

This research is important for many reasons. Firstly, integrated within this void is any real opportunity to look at impact, to measure experience or to investigate points of hope and change that could be useful to embed within Education, Social Care and Health services (Duncalf, 2010, Goddard, 2014). On that basis, there is a potential for this line of inquiry, once expanded, to be embedded in a prevention strategy. In other words, insight, experience and reflection from care experienced adults is a rich resource that can underpin current policy in terms of what works well and what doesn’t.

Secondly, by choosing to focus on exclusion within education, the opportunity to alter the trajectory for looked after children who struggle with education by furthering knowledge and insight into the impact of school exclusion is undoubtedly an ambitious yet desirable goal. A lack of understanding about the personal impact of ‘excluding the excluded’ might account for decision making within Senior Leadership Teams in schools. Knowledge may be helpful in this regard.  

Thirdly, it has the potential to give a voice to readers of this work who have the opportunity to connect and identify with others who have shared their experiences. We cannot underestimate the healing power of reading about people who have experienced similar things, giving room for individuals to make sense of what happened to them while also giving a voice to a largely unheard narrative.

Finally, the value of this research is apparent in its determination to further generate an interest in the care experienced adult population. Furthermore, it would be fruitful to see all research in this area used to inform policy, practice and personal journeys of recovery from having been looked after away from home as a child.

The Intersectionality of Care and Exclusion

There is a distinct lack of research on care and exclusion and certainly nothing on ‘impact’. Where literature is available enquiry has been given to exclusion and boys, exclusion and ethnicity and exclusion and free school meals (Connolly, 2012) yet little has been found that focuses directly on exclusion and being care experienced and yet looked after children are twice as likely to be excluded permanently than their peers (Outcomes for children looked after by local authorities in England, DfE, 2016, p17).

Looked after children are four times more likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than all children and are almost 10 times as likely to have a statement of special educational need or an education, health and care plan (EHCP). In 2016, 57.3% of children looked after had a special educational need, compared to 14.4% of all children. Students with a statement account for 7 in 10 of all exclusions (O’Brien, 2016). Working through all the various statistical data creates a series of venn diagrams of overlap in so many areas, which would benefit from unpicking as a stand alone project.

One study that did focus on care and exclusion highlighted that the complexities around what exclusion actually looks like can be reflected by those who are ‘caring’ for the children and young people in their care (Brodie, 2000). Looking at 17 boys aged 6 to 16 living in residential accommodation in three local authorities. Brodie identifies difficulties about the meaning attached to ‘exclusion’ demonstrating that residential staff were using this term when in fact non-attendance may not have been due to exclusion. This brings to the fore a narrative around exclusion that may be internalised from an experience that does not reflect what actually happened.

Historical accounts of children and young people looked after away from home offer an insight into the relationship that those children and the people looking after them have had with education and potentially with exclusion.

Understanding the relationship that looked after children had to un skilled labour offers a firm footing in a) understanding why education was not seen as important for looked after children and b) could provide an explanation as to why those children who were once not in education system to have moved on to being excluded from it and c) continually show up as not doing well within it. It could be possible to hypothesise that the narrative from those early days has lingered somewhat and taken many decades and pieces of legislation to try and move forward and make a priority out of education and this cohort of children.

Children’s homes were originally run by Charities and churches and had a huge philosophy and interest in, putting those children out to work. Training Ships for boys from 11 or 12 years old, the emigration programme to farms in Australia and Canada, preparation for domestic service and the Shoeblack Brigades were all schemes for children looked after away from home and preparing for work (Higginbotham, 2016). The purpose for these children and young people was to work, it was not to be educated.

For those care experienced adults who left care in the 1970’s and 1980’s, this narrative may appear during the research, from participants who would also have been subject to the narratives of their educators and social workers and foster carers.


The research paradigm informs the research project, how the research will be gathered and the conceptual framework and identifying a research paradigm is one of the central starting points for many research studies (Brady and Gilligan, 2018).

The theoretical perspective is interpretivism working together with constructivism to understand that people construct their understanding of the world through their own interpretation. This approach is important for researching people with experiences where they may have been left with the feeling of not being heard or that their voice is not valid such as having been in care (Buchanan, 1999, Cherry, 2013, Duncalf, 2010). This approach can also enable an opportunity for the researched to gain a deeper understanding and articulated view or construction, of what happened.

The research approach is inductive as the research itself will be creating the meaning through observing any patterns that emerge.

The underlying methodology is grounded theory mainly because the literature review found that there were no comparable studies in this area so the research is exploratory by nature throughout the process (Biggam, 2013). The knowledge held by the researched celebrates the idea that they carry the knowledge and are experts of themselves and their settings (Gilbert, 2001).

A semi structured interview was chosen to provide an opportunity to understand the lived experiences, state care and exclusion, of the participants, how they made meaning of those experiences and how that then impacted upon them. One main advantage to using this method is the inherent flexibility within the process which allows for expansion of certain areas and enables topics to arise (Gray, 2018). The semi-structured nature of the interview allows the narrative to be led by the participant which in this study is important due to the silencing previously highlighted of voices of care experienced adults but more importantly, potentially of those people as children who were in care in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Cherry, 2013). One disadvantage is that the interviewer also must ‘manage’ the interview so that the data collected is not so long and complex that it cannot be made sense of (Gray, 2018).

Purposive sampling, also known as selective or subjective sampling, is chosen where there is a small group, qualitative methods will be used and the group is deemed ‘hard to reach’ (Gray, 2018) such as care experienced adults who have experienced exclusion. The sample are invited to take part in the research based on the knowledge that they will provide the best perspective on the impact of exclusion on children looked after away from home and how this impacted upon them in education and employment as adults. This could be described as ‘indepth knowledge’ another reason for using purposive sampling (Cohen et al, 2011).  An advantage of this sampling method is that it can used to explore participants who may be a challenge to reach, which can then add further insights about future engagement that might create a pathway towards a larger research project (Biggam, 2013) which is an aim of this study. It could be argued that this sampling method does not provide participants that are representative of the group, but this method is very much used for researching under-represented groups (Gray, 2018). Those who were looked after away from home in state care in the 1970’s and 1980’s and those who have been excluded from school would be considered to be an under-represented group.  As the philosophical approach is an interpretivist one, then while themes are important, it is how people have interpreted those events that the researcher would like to capture and the impact that this has had upon them.

The sample for this research were invited via social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and also through conversations with people already known to the author. Based on the subject matter, sampling in this way was the most appropriate and the question was asked “Did you leave care in the 1970’s or 1980’s? Were you excluded from school? If you would like to be involved in my research in this subject, please message me for more information.”

There were five attendees who completed the interview, aged between 46 and 59. There were 3 females and 2 males. They all completed an information sheet and signed a consent form. This study complied with Oxford Brookes University and BERA (British Education Research Association) and the research was found to be fully compliant with the Ethics Committee of Oxford Brookes University.

Confidentiality, the right to withdraw and considerations around protection from harm was all explored as were any tensions that might arise. Tensions highlighted were an understanding that there is always a perceived power imbalance between researcher and participant. I entered into this research as a white, woman who is ostensibly middle class and as such this locates me as someone of privilege. I am also a person who left care in the 1980’s who was excluded from two secondary schools. While this experiential position might suggest a connection with the participants, it has to be reflected upon as an area that might create perceptions of power imbalance due to perceived ideas about success that I may or may not have and that participants may feel that they do or do not have.

However, the connections that we did share cannot be ignored, not least because I was privileged with access to people for this study potentially because of my openness about my own experiences. I have no doubt that sharing about lived experience opens up connection to others with lived experience to share also.


We know from the literature that there was a shift in the 1970s towards foster care provision (Higginbotham, 2017) but it is not surprising that all participants experienced time in residential care as this was still a large provision at the time. Unusually, there were individuals who experienced a young offenders facility. Whilst this in itself is not unusual, the reporting of this in research on care is. Young offenders facilities are not often given as a multiple choice option in a questionnaire for young people in care or care leavers. It is important that for this period in time, for those who were looked after away from home, that it is added in as an option.

Alongside a care placement the participants educational experience were the most important two questions as a baseline for this research. The expected experiences of education, for example, primary and secondary school, were experienced by all participants but further and higher education were less so. What is important to note here is that education is often used within the literature as a catch all term but the research showed that education is made up of a number of different stages and each stage or facility could have a different impact on a young person’s educational outcomes.

Initially each transcript was read and deductive coding, the themes presented in the literature review, took place. Then inductive coding enabled the themes to be identified that were represented by the interviewees. The goal of analysing the data in this way is to find concepts that capture meaning and this was undertaken by looking at shades of opinion, words used as expression and also implied meaning (Denscombe, 2011).

What became stark quite quickly was that the themes that researchers focused on and the questions that have been previously asked in the literature available, were quite different to the themes that emerged from the interviewees. It raised the question as to whether having lived experience would alter the questions that researchers asked and whether or not the ‘agency’ of people with lived experience had been compromised at all in previous research.

The themes from the deductive coding were:

•           poor outcomes (which didn’t arise in the inductive coding);

•           closing the gap (which potentially links to the final question asked to the interviewees about what needs to change now);

•           access to attending University (which all but one interviewee had done to Masters Level), and;

•           the meaning of exclusion.

In the literature this was more around illegal exclusion and isolation (Osler et al, 2002, Parker and Ford, 2013, Paget et al, 2016). For the people being interviewed, the meaning of exclusion carried across the life course and played out in a multitude of ways not just as a category or an experience of the education system.

The themes from the inductive coding were:

•           Exclusion

•           Narrative

•           Relationships

•           Impact 

•           Change.

To support each theme, quotations will be used as an illustration that offers more depth and richness (Nowell, 2017).


Exclusion was also made reference to as a feeling; a feeling of being excluded in general.

“I felt very poor. I didn’t have money….A feeling of difference. …There was an element of exclusion going on behind my back I wasn’t aware of.”

59, Female

This also emerged when thinking about missed opportunities because of this sense of exclusion that made its’ presence known without a language.

“I wanted to go to a grammar school, but they said that I couldn’t go to a non-Catholic grammar school. You have to go to this catholic school.”

 “We were the only children of any colour and we were there for the mercy of teachers. They would ridicule us because of it. They had very low expectations of us…we weren’t encouraged to take extra activities.”

55, Male

“Yeah, it was just definitely no schools would take you. That’s just how it was. And they didn’t have, I mean, I don’t think they had anyway, they’ve got pupil referral units now, small schools, they have lots of different types of education….I got excluded from primary school.”

46, Male

Exclusion as isolation, self exclusion and/or illegal exclusion, a theme highlighted in the literature review, did arise in discussions about exclusion. However, it was usually intertwined with relationships and interpretation. Here I show quotes from my research where exclusion happened within this context.

“I excluded myself, and I guess that’s partly the same now. The child excluding themselves out of that environment, but also the school not managing to meet those needs.”

53, Female


The narrative developed and described below suggests the power of a particular narrative being reinforced through relationships. This is especially important to note when exploring and thinking about the power of relationships, positively and negatively, within education.

“From an employment point of view, I think because I was always told I would only ever work in the factory, that’s literally I was told, ‘You will either work in the factory or you’re going to prison.’ That’s it. I said, ‘But I don’t want to.’ Originally I said I wanted to be a vet to my careers advisor. My careers advisor and looked at me and said, ‘You’re from a home. You can’t be a vet.’ I said, ‘Oh why?’ They said, ‘You could be a plumber.’ I said ‘I don’t want to be a plumber.’ They said, ‘What else would you like to do?’ I said, ‘Can I not work in an office?’ Children like you don’t. Okay.”

A relationship that challenges the narrative rather than reinforces it is highlighted here.

 “…when I’m filling out these application forms, I’m quite embarrassed that when it comes to the education part there’s nowt to write on it.”

“I was right defensive and she said to me after, ” I don’t think you’re thick.” She’d said, “what is it you want to do?” And I told her that I want to do my G.C.S.E’s, but naively I’d gone along and I’d not even considered what G.C.S.E’s I wanted to do. I just knew I needed to do my G.C.S.E’s to get a better job. So I felt a bit silly because I’d not really researched it, I didn’t really know how to research it, but she were brilliant, she were brilliant. She sat down with me and went through and we picked out 5 G.C.S.E’s for me to do and I did. And that were it. I had an education from that point on. I were 24.”

46, Male

The tutor within the college was able to understand that what he describes of as ‘defensive’ was his insecurity at having no idea what GCSE’s he was meant to do and the tutor tackles this head on saying “I don’t think you’re thick” and this connection is the beginning of the education journey for him. This is worth highlighting because the conversation could have gone in many different directions and it is the relational detail that we can see what has been powerful in creating changes and what has not. This leads us onto the theme of relationships.


In the last section on ‘narrative’ the possibilities of relationships start to become explicit in understanding the impact and shifting the narrative that has been informed by the particular experiences of being in care and being excluded from school. Relationships, the power of them, the lack of them and what they could have or could have or did do, came through in abundance.

 “I had an English teacher, she was brilliant. She was an influence. She was supportive. She treated me as though I had … I won’t say gift, but she treated me as though I was special.”

“My degree was English and education. My Master’s was creative writing and now I’m doing a Ph.D. in creative writing.”

59, Female

As this connection between the relationship that she had with the English teacher and every single educational choice had been around English came through, both interviewer and interviewee experienced a moment of ‘goosebumps.’

Another person talked of actions that are currently deemed enough to exclude a child, yet this teacher used the behaviour to support, create and ensure a different outcome.

 “One teacher who at the tender age of 15 did grab me aside and said, ‘I am going to make you sit and do O levels.’ When I say I argued with him, he had to lock the door to stop me going out of the classroom. I broke the blackboard. I tried to smash windows. I was so vexed and angry because he was telling me that, ‘Actually you’re smart.’ I wouldn’t believe him, so I threw desks at him. He just stood there and took it all. He said, ‘I believe that you have got ability. You are probably one of the smartest kids I’ve ever known.’

Eventually when I calmed down and he let me go, I thought about it. I thought, “You know what? For you, I’m going to try.” I thought, “I’m going to sit and do my exams for you.” When I passed them and I went into sixth form, he was there to greet me and he said, “I told you.” I told you but you just needed to always believe it. You needed to believe that you could do it. At the same time, I still didn’t hold that belief. I still didn’t take ownership of that belief.”

“I did speak to him. He actually tracked me down, gosh, it’s got to be over 10 years ago on a site that used to be called Friends Reunited. He tracked me down. He did track me down. He rang me. I don’t know how he got my number, but anyway he did. He just wanted to see how I was. He said I was often in his thoughts. That kind of did take the wind out of me a little bit.”

55, Male

Again, it is the role of a teacher and the connection offered and the ‘seeing’ of a young person and what they can achieve that shines through.

 “Mr B, he was a great teacher actually. He used to take me to his house. Because most of the lads could go home at the weekend and holidays, but I couldn’t, so it was a pretty lonely place. He used to take me up to his house and I’d go walking in the Peak District with him and his son. Play football and that and he was a good teacher.”

46, Male

Finally, a social worker is identified here but interestingly, this is a social worker who supported the education of her.

“My biggest fear was other people and relationships. So, the way I dealt with people was to push them away and the only way I knew how to do that was to be aggressive. When I got to 16, I met a social worker who changed everything, she started doing English and Maths lessons with me and, as part of that, I began to trust her. And I adored this woman and I had such a really grown attachment to her. She’s still around in my world.”

53, Female

In all but one interview, a teacher or a tutor or a social worker delivering education, are highlighted as the key relationship that changed the perceived trajectory. This was not an anticipation of the research but a very welcome finding.


It would be an easy assumption to make that the impact of having been in care and excluded from school may be negative across the life course and statistics as they are currently collected would support a negative mindset. This view is supported throughout the literature review.

However, the impact has been far more positive than negative for this particular group and while 5 people would not constitute a data set large enough to suggest an accurate finding, what it does offer is the opportunity to think differently about impact, adversity and resilience.


The question was asked whether they thought things had changed and what needed to change to make things better for young people today. The question provides an opportunity to understand more clearly what the participants would have liked for themselves, giving an insight into what was lost, missing, a missed opportunity. It also allows a space for reflection with regards to thinking about what might have changed since that period.

“Well I never had any conversations where somebody sat down with me and said, oh why don’t you go to college you know you’re really good at art, it would be good to pursue that. That never happened.”

59, Female

A number of comments were made about resources and skills within the classroom when working with this particular group of children and young people.

“I still look at some of the children who aren’t privileged and who are being excluded, who are in foster care. It’s a two prong thing. It’s the educators. They themselves are … They lack understanding perhaps as to what these children go through. Perhaps they’re focused too much on the behaviour as opposed to what’s coming behind it. They don’t approach it in a therapeutic way. The relationship that they build, or rather they don’t build, the relationship is very authoritative.”

55, Male

 “There is still a lack of money. There are still a lack of people who understand attachment and trauma and there is still abuse, be it emotional rather than, I would hope, sexual. And there is still a lack of workers in care systems who are paid sufficiently to understand enough about supporting young people, which worries me.”

53, Female

“There’s a lack of qualified people in the care system to provide the necessary support to young people and, therefore, when we get into the school systems and there’s a lack of teachers with sufficient understanding of trauma and attachment.”

“When you put a child who’s in the care system into a classroom of thirty children, they’re not having their needs met, you know? And then they end up within our service and we spend so long unpicking the damage that’s been done by mainstream schools.”

53, Female

Identified is the understanding that education across the life course. While this is not generally made explicit in compulsory education as the objective is to get children and young people to achieve certain things by certain dates, the impact of not knowing this when coupled with the narrative inherited through having been in care, may feel far more limiting.

“We hear a lot in our adult life and all around us at the moment about, you have choice. You can change your life. But when you’re a young person in care, that’s not necessarily given as an option in everyday life. You’re not asked enough about your choices.”

“I think there’s a big lack of understanding still. I still think there’s a lot of unconscious bias there.”

49, Female

 “I just think education is somemut that we should recognise throughout your life course. Not that’s it. You’re a kid. You had you’re chance. You didn’t get it. Whatever the circumstances are, tough.”

46, Male

The participants in this research with their own educational journeys very much support the understanding of seeing education as something that is achieved across the life course and how important it is for educators and social workers to develop a different narrative around ‘success’. The way that data is collected very much focused and continues to focus, on educational achievements achieved at the same time as non looked after peers.


The benefits of research looking at lived experience across the life course, provide a robust way of gathering qualitative data that can be used to inform policy, support and underpin practice and create an opportunity for the participant to develop a narrative around that experience. 

In developing this particular study, it would be most beneficial, were the capacity available, to have a much larger cohort. To have up to thirty voices weaving through the data would enable a greater opportunity to draw conclusions that would provide even more meaning.

Within that, interviews could not just be with people with lived experience but also a section for teachers who have memories of working with them as children could be included. This would add another layer of richness and in fact a teacher did actively seek out one of the participants in this study to see how they were when they were in there late 30’s.  There is something appealing about giving teacher’s the opportunity to see outcomes too as anecdotally, I have heard many teachers suggest that they do not understand their impact and they do wonder what happened to a child they remember. This puts some context into the powerful relationship that can exist between pupil and teacher, child and adult, developing brain and brain builder.

There are currently areas within Initial Teaching Training (ITT) that some courses appear to include, and others do not such as Child Development, Attachment Theory and Trauma Awareness. The route by which someone enters the profession appears to have differences in this inclusion. An implication of a study that offers rich insights into the power of relationships, is that these areas should very much be a part of ITT.

Through understanding child development, it can be simpler to understand what children need to be access classroom based learning and what happens to children when they don’t have that (Gerhardt, 2004, Geddes 2006) and how difficult and adverse early beginnings impact upon brain development (O’Neill, L et al, 2010). Finally, trauma awareness enables development of a knowledge base that supports an understanding of how the brain is impacted by trauma (Porges, 2011, Szalavitz and Perry, 2011, Seigal, 2012) the safety it needs to feel and the repetition it needs to build neural pathways that create an internal architecture for learning (Gerdhart, 2014).

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study (Kaiser Institute, 1995 – 1997) offers a framework for understanding that what happens to us as children impacts us across the life course and relationships that are positive and safe provide the basis for recovery and therefore for building the resilience required for learning. This study further supports the need for a relational approach to teaching children and young people, developed through an understanding of the impact of early childhood adversity. This knowledge has an opportunity to contribute to lessening the statistics on exclusion and supporting alternative strategies for children and young people who are already incredibly vulnerable. 

As mentioned earlier, the interest in education and children who are looked after away from home has generated a service known as The Virtual School is a team of teachers and dedicated education professionals who work to support the education of Children in Care and care leavers and from September 2018, this will include ‘previously looked after’ children (adopted children). The Virtual School provide lots of ‘whole school’ training that ensures that this knowledge is available, but individual schools have to opt in to take part and the schools that take part need senior leadership within that establishment to be totally committed to embracing this knowledge with their school as it often requires a complete culture change.


Studies like this one really support a need to ensure that the system of education is robust, not just for looked after children but also for those on the edge of care, those not known to services at all and for those who experience trauma during childhood such as bereavement, poverty or poor health. The recent findings from the Children’s Commissioner’s annual study of childhood vulnerability in England (2018) found that in every typical class of 30 pupils, one child lives with a parent with mental health difficulties, three children are struggling with their own mental health, one child is a carer for a parent or sibling, three children have special educational needs (SEN), two children are living in homes where there is domestic violence and abuse and one child is living in material deprivation. Whole school approaches to supporting children looked after away home, support all children. Relationship building between child and teacher is a fundamental part of learning and the space to enable that to ensure that this can happen should be made available

When research takes the time to look at the impact across the life course, teachers have a clearer understanding about why they do what they do, what students need to support learning to take place and within discovering the impact of what happens to people as they age, we understand the full impact that we can have in our work.

It strikes me that there is something very special about the act of a teacher caring about a child’s education and while this is important for all children, for children with interrupted childhoods, it is crucial! It is possible, I would argue, that this is one of the greatest protective factors that plays out across the life course.


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