Unit 11: Residential and Secure Care

This unit discusses the impact on children of living and learning in the same place and recognises the importance of the working relationship between education and care staff. The unit also explores ways to make the environment conducive to growth and identifies strategies to support learning

Unit objectives

  • To discuss the impact on children of living and learning in the same place
  • To recognise the importance of the working relationship between education and care staff in these settings
  • To explore ways to make the environment conducive to growth and to identify  strategies to support children’s learning

Resources to deliver unit

  • Residential and secure care presentation
  • Handouts: Extracts from Secure in the Knowledge and Residential Care and Education: Improving Practice in Residential Special Schools and Secure Care Accommodation Services in Scotland
  • Residential Care and education: improving practice in residential special schools and secure accommodation services in Scotland
  • Paper and pens
  • Video: Ewen Matthew

Introduction to trainer

This unit is aimed at staff working in residential schools or secure units. Although it is not intended fully to replace other units in the course you should make a selection of which activities are appropriate to include from the units relating to the child’s world in the school or education setting as some of these focus particularly on children who live in community based settings. The main purpose of this unit is to get staff from different professional groupings to think together about the distinctive features of settings where education and care are combined and explore ways of developing and improving practice. It is not primarily an information giving unit.

Historically there was a degree of professional friction between ‘care’ and ‘education’ staff but in all schools this issue has been addressed, along with many other changes outlined in the paragraph below. Nevertheless the two distinct professional groups remain, with different pay, conditions and hours of work. The introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been a very positive ‘driver’ for further collaboration between the two professional groups. If possible it would be best if this unit was jointly delivered by a senior care staff member and a senior member of the education staff which would give the opportunity to model positive relationships.

It is important to recognise three features of the residential school sector. Firstly, it caters for some of the most vulnerable/troubled/challenging children in the care sector, and also some children with multiple and complex disabilities. Many of the children, (excluding those with complex disabilities), will have had previous placements which have not been successful.

Secondly, the sector is relatively small and very diverse, and the number of residential schools has diminished steadily for the past three decades, as local authorities have sought placements nearer the child’s home and in their own services, where possible. The sector is diverse in that it includes secure units, and specialist disability services such as the Royal Blind School, as well as those serving those ‘looked after’ children who have great difficulty in attending mainstream schools. Three of the schools are for primary age children. In face of diminishing demand many of the schools have reduced in size, and adapted and diversified their services. Schools have expanded their curriculum through extensive outdoor education and the ‘woodland classroom’, for example. Levels of engagement with the local community have increased, and engagement with and support for parents is much more developed than in the past.

Thirdly, due to their specialist nature, and because nearly all the schools are independently owned and managed, their locations are governed by historic factors and their intake is not aligned to any particular local authority. One consequence of this is that they serve children from a wide geographical area, and the homes of many of the children are some distance from the schools.

Outline of Unit

  • Large group discussion: The intensity of experience
  • Small group activity: Not my job
  • Small group activity: A Curriculum for Excellence (the 24-hour curriculum)
  • Video clip Ewen Matthew

Large discussion: Intensity of experience (10 minutes)

Show PowerPoint slide 1. This is a quote from a classic essay by Erving Goffman on total institutions. Goffman’s analysis of ‘total institutions’ implies that they are usually disabling and damaging to the people who live in them. Ask participants for positive and negative implications of the fact that young people work, play and sleep in the same place and spend much of their lives with the same people. You should draw out that this does make young people more vulnerable to a range of distressing experiences including stigma, abuse or bullying. The same intensity that increases vulnerability is, however, the source of excellent opportunities to effect real change. Emphasise that we only have the right to make such an intrusive intervention into a child’s life if we work with them effectively to create a positive change in their future.

Small group activity: Not my job (30 minutes)

Spend a few minutes talking to the whole group about the relationships between professional groups in these settings. Different professional value bases, working conditions, level of qualification and status can all contribute to tensions between groups. When working with young people whose experience of adults may be very negative and whose behaviour may be challenging it can be easy for these tensions to be magnified into serious splits. Although young people can often seek out and increase such tensions and splits, it is extremely unhelpful for them if they are successful in contributing to animosity between adults. Many of the young people will have lived with adults who are in violent and abusive relationships and they need a corrective experience where the adults responsible for their care can model positive warm relationships within which difference and disagreement can be managed constructively.  Another distinctive feature of the early lives of many of the young people will be that their needs were rarely the central concern of their parents. Young people need to experience genuinely child centred care where professionals are concentrating on how to meet their needs effectively rather than disagreeing about who should undertake particular responsibilities. Divide participants into small groups of either education or care staff and ask them to undertake the following task.

  • Split into small groups comprised of just education staff or just care staff. Write a brief job description of your current role (if there are staff of different grades write a job description for the frontline practitioner i.e. a teacher or a care worker). Ensure that this is an accurate description of how you perceive the job you actually do - not what is in your contract or what you think you should be doing.
  • Exchange copies of the job description with one of the groups focusing on the different role. Keep a copy of your own description. Discuss the job descriptions.  Do they provide an integrated experience for children or could they be further developed to ensure a shared experience between care and education for young people? Identify possible changes in your own and the other group’s job description and return to large group for discussion.

Notes to trainer

This activity is designed to get participants to reflect on their tasks and responsibilities and examine which are distinctive to their professional group and which are or should be shared. It is as important that staff are comfortable with those aspects of the task that are specific to them as it is that there is a shared common purpose. In the feedback draw out different value assumptions, check out whether participants can articulate a shared aim that crosses both groups and identify organisational or professional barriers to effective working together.

Are carers aware of their responsibilities to educate and teachers clear of their contribution to the care of young people? In some settings such discussions will take place regularly and the concepts will be familiar. For others this may feel threatening and an additional demand in an already stressful job.

Emphasise that dealing effectively with these predictable tensions can make working in residential schools or secure units much more enjoyable and effective for the young people. Avoiding these issues is actively damaging to the young people they care for and hinders their own professional development.

Small group activity: The Curriculum for Excellence (30 minutes)

Divide participants into small professionally mixed groups and ask them to undertake a brief evaluation of their service using the handouts provided. If some of the participants are from a secure setting ensure that the extract from “Secure in the knowledge” is included as part of the resources available for them.  Ask participants to concentrate on just one of the sections from the other hand-out but make sure that all three sections are covered. The extracts are from Residential Care and Education: Improving Practice in Residential Special Schools and Secure Care Accommodation Services in Scotland which is a joint publication by HMIE and the Care Commission. It is intended to help residential schools and secure settings to improve their practice through self-evaluation. Again some participants may be aware of this material and indeed have been part of a self-evaluation of their setting. This, however, does not make the exercise less valuable. Ask participants to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement.  In the feedback ask groups to share the two most important things they discovered in their evaluations. Ask how the work from the groups will be formally fed back within the setting. Encourage volunteers from care and education to agree to take responsibility together for passing on their ideas to managers and to report to the rest of the group the outcomes of their discussions. Try and get an agreed date and time to do this work before the session finishes.

Video clip Ewen Matthew (20 minutes)

Ewen is a retired headmaster of a residential school in Scotland. His interview touches on many of the issues covered in the unit.  Use the video as the opportunity for a brief final discussion and as a way of drawing the session together.

Key messages

  • Residential schools and secure units provide a very intense experience for young people. This is potentially very therapeutic but also has implicit dangers.
  • The relationship between care staff and educational staff is fundamental in providing a high quality experience for young people
  • The opportunities for maximising educational attainment and emotional growth through the use of the ’twenty four hour curriculum’ are considerable.
  • The curriculum in residential schools and secure settings needs to be balanced, recognisable and realistic with opportunities for young people to obtain accredited qualifications that have meaning for education providers or employers when they leave.
  • Young people need to be emotionally claimed by the adults who care for them and those who teach them.

Resources to support this unit

  • Higher Aspirations, Brighter Futures: NRCCI Overview Report
  • Higher Aspirations, Brighter Futures: NRCCI Commissioning Report
  • Higher Aspirations, Brighter Futures: NRCCI Workforce Report
  • Higher Aspirations, Brighter Futures: NRCCI Matching Resources to Needs Report
  • Securing our future report