Local authorities unwilling to “break the cycle”

3rd February 2017

Buttle UK has been supporting disadvantaged children, especially those on the edge of the care, for over 60 years. One of the ways we do this is to fund places at boarding schools, where we have seen how it can offer immediate relief from their situation, but also very positive long-term outcomes. 

Over the last 3-years, we have been working with The Education Endowment Foundation to undertake a research project to measure the educational and well-being outcomes of using boarding in this way.  It was with regret that we had to bring the project to an end in January, without completing the research.

The project was aimed at children in Year 6 who are on a Child In Need or Child Protection Plan, and making the transition to secondary school.  Our overall intention was to establish a compelling case for local authorities to consider using boarding schools systematically as a way of preventing care. 

We know that 1 in 4 referrals to children’s services are made within 12 months of a previous referral for the same child, and therefore many children end up in a revolving door of support. Some end up in care. Buttle UK has seen that when such children access boarding their outcomes improve. 

In 2016, 64% of the children we supported achieved 5 or more GCSEs at grades A* - C.  This compares to only 19% for those assessed as Children in Need nationally in 2015. In addition, the children we support go on to further and higher education, and report increased self-esteem and life-long friendships.

The project aimed to engage local authorities in the process of referring children whom they have assessed as a Child in Need to boarding placements, and then deliver a piece of independent research evaluating outcomes and cost effectiveness

Since 2015 we have had many discussions with local authorities about how this project could best meet their needs and overcome internal barriers. Despite interest and support, and detailed discussions with key internal staff, we repeatedly struggled to receive referrals. By mid-January 2017, it became apparent that considering boarding school as an option in a systematic way is not something local authorities, as a whole, are yet ready, willing or able to do. Therefore, in consultation with our partners, we decided to end the project.

Our Chief Executive, Gerri McAndrew, spoke with TES about why the project has come to a close: 

There’s an ideology that people think that boarding isn’t right for these children. I think people don’t have the same aspirations for these children as they might for others.

- Gerri McAndrew, CEO Buttle UK 

Gerri adds that: "There’s a concern about what happens to children in the holidays when they’re not at school, there are concerns that the schools won’t cope with children with some of the difficult behaviours, all of that is based on an assumption. Not many social workers have actually visited a boarding school, so there’s a real lack of knowledge about boarding schools."

While we remain committed to the principles and values that lead us to initiating this project in the first place and will continue to support vulnerable children in boarding school, we feel that this is a missed opportunity for local authorities to take action in implementing an effective systematic method of preventing care.

We are in no doubt that this option offers a lifeline to some children, and is an alternative preventative measure that local authorities should consider.

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