Foster Carer Education Handbook

We aim to provide foster carers with essential information and advice about education that will ensure children are given effective and relevant support so they can fulfil their potential and succeed both in education and life.

Foster carer doing homework on sofa with foster child

A handbook for foster carers is given out at our foster care training events but you can also find some of the information on this page.

Information about schools

All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitles to a free place at a state school and are expected to access 25 hours per week of full-time education. It’s useful to know what type of school your foster child is attending, as it will dictate the curriculum they will follow and the qualifications available.

Whichever school your child attends, you should expect staff to have an understanding of your child’s educational needs, including social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) as well as academic needs.

The School Admissions Code states that children in care should take priority for school admissions. When a child is taken into care, every effort should be made to allow a child to remain in their current school, giving them continuity of learning, friendships and support.

It is the responsibility of the person with Parental responsibility to submit a school application, usually in the case of a child in care, the social worker. They must make sure the school is appropriate for the child and their needs and that all relevant information about the child is available to the new school.

If your foster child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), the local Special Educational Needs Assessment (SENA) Team will be responsible for consulting with schools to identify which is best to meet the child's needs, though parental preference will be taken into consideration. They are also responsible for commissioning places where a child's EHCP states that a special school is required.

Each local authority publishes school term dates on its website and these can be checked online. The school’s individual website should also publish these so it’s a good idea to check both before booking any holidays, as some schools determine their own term dates. Absence from school seriously impacts on a child’s learning and progress.

Key stages
School years are separated into key stages:
Age group Key stage
Ages 3-5 Early Years, Foundation Stage (Reception)
Ages 5-7 Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2)
Ages 7-11 Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6)
Ages 11-14 Key Stage 3 (Years 7-9)
Ages 14-16 Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11)
Ages 16-18 Key Stage 5 (Sixth form, Post-16)

Transitions can be difficult for children in care, but the move from primary school to secondary school can be especially daunting. The Virtual School supports this transition and offers advice to schools about addition support for children in care.

Starting school

Our colleagues in the Early Learning and Childcare Service have produced some information on supporting children in care through the transition to full-time education.

The East London Research Centre have also written a very helpful guide for parents and carers: What to expect in the Early Years Foundation Stage

School Leaving Age

All young people in England must continue in education, employment or training until their 18th birthday. This does not mean they must stay in school, there are other options:

  • Full-time education, e.g. school or college
  • Apprenticeship or traineeship
  • Part-time education or training

The National Apprenticeship Service has created a handy guide to apprenticeships, which you may find useful if you’re caring for a young person who is already in or is about the enter post-16 education.


Ofsted assess four key areas, plus on for overall effectiveness:

  • Overall effectiveness of leadership and management
  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment
  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare
  • Outcomes for children and learners

Schools are graded between Grade 1: Outstanding and Grade 4: Inadequate. A school that requires special measures is failing to provide an acceptable standard of education and will require regular monitoring.

Statutory guidance advises that children in care should, wherever possible, be placed in schools rated Grade 1: Outstanding or Grade 2: Good. Social workers should take this into consideration when applying for a school place.


Absence from school has a serious impact on children. As well as having higher rates of exclusion, children in care are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of exclusion.

Statutory guidance is issues to Head Teachers on the exclusion of pupils with statements of SEN and children in care.

  • Head teachers should avoid excluding permanently any child in care.
  • Schools should engage proactively with carers in supporting the behaviour of pupils with additional needs.
  • Where a school has concerns about the behaviour, or risk of exclusion, of a child in care, it should, in partnership with others, consider what additional support or alternative placement may be required.
  • In the case of children in care, schools and local authorities should work together to arrange alternative provision from the first day following the exclusion.
  • If a child has more than five consecutive school days of exclusion, then education must be arranged for the sixth school day of exclusion, regardless of whether this is as a result of one fixed-period or more than one fixed-period exclusion.

When a child in care is excluded, the school and the local authority should work together to arrange alternative provision from the first day following the exclusion, but where it is not possible, or not appropriate, to arrange alternative provision during the first five school days of an exclusion, the school should take reasonable steps to set and mark work for the pupil. Work that is provided should be accessible and achievable by the pupil outside school.

The Virtual School works closely with schools to reduce the number of fixed-term exclusions and ensure that children in care are not permanently excluded.

Designated Teachers

The governing body of a school has to designate a member of staff (Designated Teacher (DT)) to have responsibility to promote educational achievement of children in care and previously looked after children. Schools should also have a named governor for children in care. The DT should report to the governors about the progress of children in care.

Designated teachers:

  • Help school staff to understand things that affect the way children in care learn and achieve and to advise staff about teaching strategies Promote high expectations and aspirations for children in care
  • The Virtual School provides regular updates and training to DTs and organises events to help them keep up to date. The DT is expected to liaise regularly and effectively with the Virtual School and provide regular updates to monitor and track progress.
  • Ensure the child has a voice in setting learning targets
  • Ensure that children in care are prioritised in one-to-one tuition arrangements and carers understand the importance of supporting learning at home
  • Have lead responsibility for the child’s Personal Education Plan (PEP) at school
  • Help children in care make a smooth transition if they change schools
  • Manage the way school engages with others (e.g. social workers, Virtual School head) focussing on the way everyone contributes to the child’s educational achievement
  • Ensure school policies (e.g. Home School Agreements) are communicated to social workers and carers
  • Ensure the school does everything possible to maximise educational stability for the child
Tests and assessments

The Virtual School tracks children’s progress closely. Schools send us information each term and targets are set and reviewed at PEP meetings.

  • Year 1 phonics check – Each child will read 40 words to a teacher. You’ll find out how they did and their teacher will assess whether they need extra help with reading. Children may need to repeat this check again in Year 2 depending on how they did.
  • Key Stage 2 – Key stage 2 tests cover English reading, English grammar, punctuation and spelling and Maths. Teachers will also assess whether children are working towards, working at or working at greater depth within the expected standard in other subjects.
  • Key stage 4 – During Key Stage 4, most pupils work towards national qualifications, usually GCSEs. Core subjects (English, maths and science) and Foundation subjects (ICT< PE and citizenship) are compulsory. Pupils can then choose other subjects from arts, design and technology, humanities and modern foreign languages. Religious education and sex education must also be provided at Key Stage 4.
  • English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – In performance tables, the EBacc shows how many students got a GCSE grade C or above in a range of academic subjects: English, maths, two science subjects, languages, history or geography.
Exam tips for carers

Start early

Spreading revision out over a longer period of time can be very effective. It is never too early to start revising. Little and often from the start of term (on top of homework) is a great way to get into the habit. Help your child/young person to manage their free time to fit revision in: it does not need to be onerous.


Revising for long periods of time every day is unlikely to be effective. Make sure your child/young person is taking time out- this doesn't mean sitting in front of a screen for hours on end! Support them to go out, see friends or do positive activities with you.


Don't make revision a battle. Agree your expectations early on and support your child/young person to be self-motivated. Give praise and encouragement along the way.


According to some research, "students who can test themselves or try to retrieve material from their memory are going to learn that material better in the long run". Help your child/young person by getting them to teach you about the topic or and you testing them informally.

Revision guides

Schools usually provide revision guides. Speak to the tutor/head of year or the Designated Teacher to get these as early as possible.

Useful sources of help

The BBC has a website with revision advice for young people.

YoungMinds has the following advice for parents/carers about the exam period:

  • Try to help your child to plan how they're going to get through the revision/exam period.
  • Help them to eat well, to sleep well, and to exercise.
  • Don't expect them to work for seven or eight hours a day, and make sure they're getting regular breaks.
  • Listen to them and take their concerns seriously.
  • Remember that young people have different learning styles, and cramming textbooks may well not work for them.
  • Take advice from teachers.
  • Above all, tell them you'll be proud of them, however they do.

YoungMinds has worked in partnership with BBC Learning to launch The Mind Set, a national peer-to-peer coaching network for GCSE students:

Many children in care already have high levels of anxiety and the exam period can add to their stress levels. They may benefit from learning ways to look after their mental health. There are some great websites which you can look at yourselves or share with children. Here’s our pick of the bunch!

NHS Help your child beat exam stress - Information for carers and parents about how to support the children and young people in your care.

Anxiety UK Exam Stress/Anxiety - Information for children and young people.

BBC Bitesize Exams: how to deal with exam stress - Some simple suggestions for children and young people and links to other sources of help.

Young Minds Exam self-care - This website has some easy, practical ideas for reducing stress for children and young people.

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

In 2014, the government introduced a major transformation of the way services for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) are delivered, to ensure that children and young people with SEND and their families are fully involved in decisions about their support and what they want to achieve.

The changes mean that:
  • Children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities may be eligible for an SEN support plan or an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. These have replaced statements and learning difficulty assessments.
  • Children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities are eligible for an assessment for an education, health and care plan from birth until the age of 25 whilst in education.
  • Children and young people who are eligible for an education, health and care plan are offered the option of a personal budget to provide more choice over their care package.
  • Each council has a 'local offer' – in Leicestershire, this can be viewed on a website containing information about all the care and support services available.
  • Professionals work in a coordinated way to join up help across education, health and social care.
Attachment theory

Attachment theory suggest that our earliest relationships, developed before we have language, form the basis for what we expect from all relationships in the future. Even as children, when forming new relationships, we expect the same pattern of responses we have experienced from adults in the past.

If a child has experienced early care where the adult is available, responsive and able to meet their needs through actions repeated many times a day, they will develop a secure attachment and the child will expect adults in the future to behave similarly.

New parents often feel overwhelmed. It takes time for a parent to get to know their baby and start to understand what they may need but research shows that parents don’t have to be perfect. As long as they get it right the majority of the time, secure attachments will develop.

However, if a child has experienced early care where their needs frequently aren’t met as the caregiver is unreliable, unresponsive, threatening or often absent, they will develop an insecure attachment. The child will expect the same from adults in future relationships. Three patterns of insecure attachment have been identified.

Avoidant insecure attachment

Where a caregiver is slow to give relevant care or shows a lack of emotional connection to their child, the child may stop signalling their needs because they no longer see the point. While most children are not subjected to this level of absent care, some children who have come into care may have experienced neglect.

This causes children to become withdrawn and quiet, and they may not show their emotions. They are less likely to trust adults and may not ask for support when they need it. Often, these children appear quiet, calm and self-reliant, so they are not always noticed in school and are at risk of developing mental health difficulties.

Ambivalent insecure attachment

This pattern develops when a child received inconsistent care or when the caregiver does not understand the child’s needs. Because the child cannot predict if their signals of distress will be responded to in a way that makes them feel better, the child keeps trying to signal even after the caregiver has responded. These children are not easily soothed and need a lot of attention.

Disorganised insecure attachment

A disorganised attachment is not really a pattern at all. It described the behaviour of a child where caregiving has been so chaotic and unpredictable that the child has not yet developed a way of understanding or predicting what is likely to happen in their world.

This kind of attachment is often, but not always, associated with children who have experienced abusive caregiving. These children can show behaviour which is difficult to predict and may not appear to link directly to what is happening at the time.

The Virtual School can provide attachment training to all professionals involved in the education and care of our children in care, including foster carers.