What are you leading?
I founded Lighthouse along with three other Teach First ambassadors because we were concerned about the low educational attainment of looked after children.
In the UK, children who live in children’s homes have far worst outcomes than those who don’t. Foster parents look after most looked after children, but for some children require professional support.
Unfortunately, the support available in children’s homes is often of poor quality. The work of residential care workers is challenging, poorly paid and carries very little prestige. Children do not stay in the homes for very long, and there is little education and mental health support available.
Lighthouse aims to change this. We have developed a new type of children’s home based on three years of research conducted by a diverse group of Teach First ambassadors on how best to support vulnerable children growing up in care.
The inspiration for the model came from German and Danish children’s homes (where outcomes for children are much higher) and model of practice called Social Pedagogy which is common in western Europe but almost unheard of in the UK. Under this model, well-trained staff build relationships, create a home-like environment and engage young people as equals in activities such as cooking dinner, painting or playing a sport together. The staff, who are university educated for at least three years, are trained in understanding the interrelationships between physical, emotional, social and cognitive wellbeing – for example, how emotional problems can impact cognitive development.
To emulate this model, we intend to recruit top graduates and provide them with the training necessary to support children from vulnerable backgrounds. We’ll build places which are more like home, less like an institution and education will be at the top of our list of priorities.
How did your experiences as a fellow inspire or prepare you for what you’re doing now?
The Teach First Leadership Development Programme (LDP) was one of the most challenging things that I have ever done. Every day brought with it new opportunities to learn and develop new skills. Without this experience, it is doubtful that I would have had the skills and confidence to found Lighthouse.
Initially, I found teaching a real challenge, especially when it came to teaching classes where behaviour was a significant issue. I had a very tricky group in my first year with several boisterous boys, and I had to struggle every lesson to prevent it from being derailed. On some days, I felt as though I might as well not have been there. After a particularly terrible observation, my mentor gave me some advice that has stayed with me ever since. She asked ‘who are they?’. It sounds like a straightforward question, but it made me realise that I hadn’t built a relationship with them. Our interaction was transactional rather than relational. I spent the next few weeks getting to know them and building a positive learning relationship, and while it was not always plain sailing, they ended up doing well that year. Several of the boisterous boys ended up joining a debate club I set up the following year. This experience made me realise the importance of a positive relationship when trying to get the best out of people; a lesson that has served me well in my current role.
I spent three years teaching English in Birmingham before setting up Lighthouse. While on the programme I completed several Summer Projects: mini-internships which can be an excellent opportunity to gain skills to take back to the classroom or start a new career. I have a couple of job offers as a result, but my experience of teaching made me realise that I wanted to work on an issue that I cared about a lot.
The training on the LDP involved a lot of guidance on leadership and had modules on running organisations as well as sessions with people who had used their training to do similar things, so I feel that I had a good idea of how I could use my training to found and run a charity.
The Teach First ambassador community has been vital in getting his project off the ground. We have taken inspiration and practices from other ambassador led projects such as Jamie’s Farm, a charity that aims to reduce exclusions through residential stays on a farm. We have also worked closely with Charter-inspired Reach Academy Feltham, an “attachment-aware school” also founded by Teach First ambassadors, which has produced outstanding academic results.
Looking at current outcomes for children in residential care can paint a depressing picture, but I believe that there is a lot that can be done across the sector do to change the current state of affairs.
Ultimately, we plan to radically improve outcomes for looked after children in residential care by reforming children’s homes. We hope that by setting an example, others will follow suit and in doing so radically change the landscape.
We intend to set up several of our own homes along the model that we have formulated and also support other children’s homes in adopting our ways of working.
Beyond this, we intend to work with schools to help them understand how they can best support looked after children, encourage the government to support measures which improve long-term stability for children and build a coalition of organisations committed to raising outcomes for looked after children.
These are of course lofty and long-term goals, but we feel that the sector is ripe for disruption and innovation and we are well placed to lead the way.