Cover story - June 18, 2018

Pilots to focus on mental health of children in care

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced it will provide funding for pilot programmes aimed at improving the mental health of children in care. Up to 10 pilots across the country will trial what the DfE describes as ‘new high quality mental health assessments’. 

The pilots will be delivered by a group of organisations including the Anna Freud Centre, Action for Children, and the NSPCC. The DfE has awarded funding of £240,000 to deliver the 10 pilots over two years. Pilot areas will also receive a share of £650,000 of funding to deliver the scheme. The pilots will aim to ‘identify a child’s mental health and broader wellbeing needs, including whether a referral to a more specialist service is needed.’ According to DfE figures, half of all children in care meet the criteria for a possible mental health disorder, compared to one in ten children outside the care system. The pilot programme will also consider which professionals should be involved in assessments and aim to ‘develop best practice that ensures the child’s unique needs are at the centre of the process’.

Speaking about the pilots, Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi, commented, ‘Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in society and have often experienced traumatic events, so it is vital they receive care and support that is tailored to their needs’. Sheila Redfern, Head of Specialist Trauma and Maltreatment Service at the Anna Freud Centre, said: ‘Looked after children are highly vulnerable to emotional and relationship difficulties, putting them at risk of long-term mental health issues and placement breakdown with their carers, so it is vital they get the right help at the right time. The assessment process at an individual level is critical to achieving this. We are very excited to have this opportunity to support improvements through the pilots.’

The announcement of the pilot scheme comes as an education minister suggested outcomes for children in care may be improved if more were placed in boarding schools. Lord Agnew, minister for the school system, was commenting after the results of a study were released which claimed improved outcomes for looked after children who boarded. The research, which was commissioned by the Boarding Schools Partnership (BSP) and carried out by Norfolk County Council (NCC), analysed the outcomes of 52 vulnerable young people who were either in, or at risk of going into, care, and who NCC had supported to attend eleven state and independent boarding schools over the past 10 years. They found that 71 per cent of the children who boarded showed a reduced level of risk, and 63 per cent were moved off the risk register completely. Another finding was that, compared to Looked After Children nationally, a higher proportion of children who were placed in boarding schools attained an A*-C or Grade 4+ in both maths and English GCSE. Lord Agnew said ‘It is right that all children should be given the opportunity to reach their full potential and this report demonstrates that – for the right person, at the right school, at the right time – boarding school can be highly effective in improving both social and educational outcomes. I urge local authorities to consider these findings and the positive impact boarding school placements can have on vulnerable children’.

The BSP is a collaboration between the DfE and the Boarding Schools Association, the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation, Buttle UK, and the Reedham Children’s Trust. It was launched in July 2017, to ‘give local authorities access to the expertise and resources of state and independent boarding schools and specialist charities’. The full report can be read at:


Cover story - June 11, 2018

'Overwhelming support' for compulsory PSHE

There is strong support among school leaders, teachers and pupils for making personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) a compulsory subject, according to a new report from a coalition of charities, unions and other groups. The report, Statutory PSHE Education: meaningful change supported by busy teachers & school leaders has been produced by a group of organisations including the National Education Union (NEU), the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), the PSHE Association, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the British Red Cross.

Describing the support for statutory PSHE as ‘overwhelming’, the report notes that 90 per cent of school leaders, 88 per cent of teachers and 92 per cent of pupils are in favour, together with the Chief Medical Officer, the Children’s Commissioner and various other public figures, children’s charities and organisations. It argues that while many schools teach PSHE successfully, it is not a priority for some schools because it is not a statutory curriculum subject, and quotes DfE figures that show a decline of 30 per cent since 2011 in the amount of curriculum time devoted to PSHE in secondary schools. From 2019 it will be statutory for schools to teach sex and relationships education (RSE) – which is currently usually taught as part of PSHE. The report argues that it will be more effective to extend the statutory requirement to PSHE as a whole, stating that such an approach ‘would improve the lives of children and young people, be popular in the teaching community and needn’t prove a significant burden on planning or resources’.

Arguing for ‘modest by meaningful changes’ the report’s authors argue that making PSHE statutory would not represent an overhaul of the subject, but rather a ‘levelling-up to ensure all pupils in all schools benefit.’ They argue that statutory status would ensure there was a coherent curriculum for PSHE in all schools, instead of ‘ad-hoc standalone interventions’. They also call for better training and continuing professional development (CPD) for PSHE, with a trained PSHE lead in every primary and secondary school. At primary level they call for all class teachers to receive some level of training in safe and effective PSHE classroom practice. They also suggest PSHE education should be included in initial teacher training. Another argument made in the report is that PSHE would be a natural vehicle to support government commitments to deliver education on topics such as drugs, internet safety and careers, but that this is ‘undeliverable without statutory status for PSHE in its entirety’.

Speaking about the report, Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for NAHT, said: ‘Almost everyone involved with the care, protection and education of children believes that PSHE is the best way to help prepare young people for the challenges they will encounter in their adult lives and the current challenges they face beyond the school gates’, adding ‘The school curriculum is over-stretched but it is vital that we give space to preparing pupils for their lives in the real world, not just for exams. The government is due to announce a crucial decision on the future of PSHE soon, and we really hope that they will listen to educators and experts by making the subject mandatory in all schools.’

PSHE Association Chief Executive Jonathan Baggaley commented ‘Educators overwhelmingly support strengthening the status of PSHE education in all schools and agree with parents, experts, four select committees and young people themselves that this involves making the subject statutory. The way is clear for government to take this vital step’

The full report can be found at:  



Cover story - June 4, 2018

Free schools meet need for places but lack 'innovation'

Free schools are generally opening in areas with a need for places, but a majority of the schools are failing to fulfil their original mission to be ‘innovative’, according to new research. A report, Free For All?, from the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) also finds that the first cohorts leaving free schools are achieving ‘promising’ results.

Free schools are all-ability schools, funded by the government, and can be set up by groups such as parents, teachers, charities or universities. The report examined the 311 free schools which have been set up between September 2011 (when the first free schools opened) and September 2017, with the aim to see how they had fulfilled the original policy objectives of the programme. These included alleviating basic need for school places, generating school diversity, and raising standards. Of the 311 schools, 156 were primary free schools, 118 secondary free schools and 37 all-through free schools. (Nine have closed since being established - four primary, five secondary).

The researchers found that on the whole free schools are opened in areas with a need for more school places, although this was not the case in the early days of the programme. For example, in 2012/13 65 per cent of primary free schools were set up in planning areas which had sufficient spaces, but the following year 84 per cent of primary free schools opened in areas which had at least some need for places. The report also found that while new secondary free schools had helped to create needed capacity, there were still many planning areas with ‘severe need’ for places – defined as being where forecast demand exceeds available capacity by 20 per cent or more.
The report also found that those schools which opened were increasingly being set up by multi-academy trusts (MATs), rather than the more diverse groups originally envisaged. Again, there was a distinct trend over the lifetime of the policy. For example, parents were involved in the set-up of over 40 per cent of the 25 secondary free schools opened between 2011 and 2013, but less than 20 per cent of the 37 secondaries established since 2015. Primary and all-through free schools saw a drop from 32 per cent to just four per cent.

Another aim of the free school programme was to increase the number of schools with an innovative ethos or approach to their curriculum. However, Free For All? finds only around a third of free schools demonstrate such innovation. 35 per cent of 152 primary free schools which are still open were found to be innovative, compared to 29 per cent of 113 open secondary free schools. An example of an innovative free school given in the report is the Judith Kerr Free School in Herne Hill, South London, at which pupils have lessons in both English and German, and all teachers at the school speak both languages.

In terms of the results achieved by pupils who attend free schools the report makes clear that given that the free school programme is still at a relatively early stage, it is too early to draw many conclusions, especially for primary schools. However, it notes that at Key Stage 4 data from the DfE for 2016/7 showed that the average Attainment 8 score for free schools was 48.7 , which was the second highest of all school types. The average Progress 8 score for free schools was 0.15, the highest of all the school types. The researchers describe these results as ‘promising’ while noting that the data set for free schools is still too small to draw definitive conclusions.

The report makes a number of recommendations based on its findings, including that the government should ‘review and clarify’ the mission of free schools, and streamline the commissioning process and role of different bodies – such as the New Schools Network – involved in setting them up. It also suggests surplus primary capacity might be converted to secondary capacity to help meet a shortage of places.

Responding to the report, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘What this report proves is that opening a new school is a difficult business, requiring lots of capacity from the proposer group’, adding ‘The fact that free schools now tend to be set up by MATs shows that tried and tested methods and a strong support network are a necessity, which begs the question why local authorities, who are able to offer this, are barred from opening new schools themselves.’

The full Free for All? report can be found at: