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A Better Relationship with Learning: an evaluation of the Young Carers in Schools Programme

Author: Jeff Mesie

The Young Carers in Schools Programme is an England-wide initiative that equips schools to support young carers and awards good practice (see youngcarersinschools.com). The Programme is run in collaboration by Carers Trust and The Children’s Society. They are improving the identification and support of young carers in schools across the country, so that they get the help they need.

A young carer is someone under 18 who helps to look after someone in their family, or a friend, who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol. Young adult carers are young people aged 16–25 who care, unpaid, for a family member or friend with an illness or disability, mental health condition or an addiction.

Work on an evaluation plan began in October 2017 and a report drafted in May 2018. Schools were surveyed and staff and children in schools and staff in local carers services were interviewed. These was used to generate a rich picture of the experience of implementing services to improve the identification and support for young carers in schools, the challenges of this work and to illustrate the nature of the impacts that schools were achieving.

The questions to be addressed by this evaluation were:

  1. How successfully have schools and young carers services been able to implement the different parts of the programme?
  2. To what extent does implementation of the programme improve the ability of schools to identify and respond to the needs of young carers?
  3. How well have young carers been able to improve their relationship with education and their academic progress?
  4. Do young carers experience wider improvements in terms of personal wellbeing?
  5. How does service provision connect to or inspire the wider network of services?
  6. What are the policy messages that emerge from the findings?

The key points from the evaluation in response to these questions are given below.

1. A strong pre-existing commitment to pastoral care was usually an antecedent to schools getting involved in the Young Carers in Schools (YCiS) programme. Schools that were involved promoted the scheme amongst their networks, especially feeder schools.

2. Local carers services were often resource-limited in the amount of outreach that they could do promote interest in new schools.

3. The value of the programme was that it gave schools a framework and set of actions it could pursue to identify the scale of the issue and to begin supporting young carers.

4. Schools were very positive about the YCiS programme and on the impact that it had on staff awareness and ability to respond to the needs of young carers.

5. The materials of the YCiS programme were generally seen as useful and of good quality, especially the Step by Step Guide. Certainly the baseline review was valued as a good starting point. Several commentators suggested that similar small, more easily digestible, formats may be easier for schools new to the area to understand and apply.

6. The Award scheme was valued by many schools, especially those that had progressed through the different levels. Two thirds of schools with bronze Awards suggested they intended to apply for the next Award level, so the experience seems to have been positive for most schools. Some schools reported that they found some of the Award criteria overly rigid at the bronze stage and that some of the criteria were not applicable to all schools, especially primary schools.

7. It was also noted that the name of the programme did not make it attractive to colleges, and that more should be done to make the programme appealing to them.

8. Introduction of YCiS results in the identification of a quantity of young carers that is often a surprise to the school. It also leads to an increase in referrals to local agencies about young carers.

9. Once identified as young carers, children benefited from participation in a group activities and access to a supportive peer group.

10. Schools reported that staff had an improved understanding of young carers compared to when they were first involved the YCiS programme

11. Young carers also benefited from the flexibilities and understanding that they received form school staff that helped them to manage their school work and enabled them to deal with their worries and participate more fully.

12. Schools reported that young carers were demonstrating widespread improvements in wellbeing, happiness and confidence since becoming involved in the YCiS programme. Eighty-five percent agreed that wellbeing had improved, 83% felt that young carers were happier.

13. Schools reported improvement in academic engagement and attainment, with higher motivation to learn and improvements in ability to complete homework and classwork. Examples were provided of young carers who improved their attendance and attainment through the support provided to them.

14. School often acted as a gateway to community-based carers’ services that gave the young carers opportunities outside of school that they otherwise would have been denied. Young carers spoke very positively about these activities and they had a particular importance during school holidays.

15. Schools greatly valued the contribution of carers’ services in terms of the opportunities they provided for young carers, but also for the way they were able to advocate for young carers and link families up to early help and other services when they were needed.

16. Resource constraints meant that some carers centres were unable to promote the programme to new schools to the level that they previously had and instead were focusing on advice to schools that were already engaged.

17. There was a strong belief that making young carers eligible for the pupil premium would send a helpful signal to schools of the importance of this work and may also make funding trips and external activities a little easier.

18. There was a belief that a more explicit focus on young carers as part of the Ofsted inspection framework would make schools more motivated to deliver services to young carers.

19. Young carers identified a range of services that they valued in school and outside but also stressed that support and help with their caring tasks (either in the form of transport for those they care for or help in the home) were also services that they would make a difference to their lives.