The Grasvenor Project
The Grasvenor Project is a unique ‘life experience’ programme based in our Infant School. It aims to nurture
and release the potential of the most vulnerable of Barnet’s Looked after Children; those who are high risk
for not achieving well at school. It does this by providing individualised support, either in a placement in an
infant school setting supported by a lead teacher, or through personalised mentor support. Following a
one year ‘pilot’ with positive evaluations we have now extended the work across more infant schools and
through an outreach programme.
The project is a partnership between Grasvenor Avenue Infant School and Barnet’s Virtual School, with additional infant and primary schools gradually coming on board. The Grasvenor Project’s evaluation shows that our focused work with this discrete group has positive outcomes including improved confidence and self-esteem, which are indicators for improved outcomes in education. Feedback from the Looked After Children’s (LAC) secondary schools show increased motivation and achievement following participation in the project. Young people’s evaluations also reflect their enthusiasm for the project.
Over the first year we have developed specific expertise and skills in managing the risks and challenges of the work with the steering group working to improve and refine the project. A secondary outcome emerging is professional development for the teachers in the infant departments. The placement is increasing awareness of the needs of LAC, with teachers reporting high levels of motivation in their support roles as lead adults.
The project’s ethos and commitment to the children is fundamental to its success; we are passionate about our child-centred approach and we respond proactively to challenging situations ‘no matter what’ (within the limits of our over-arching risk management process).
The LAC use the placement in a unique way which takes full advantage of the infant school environment in which non-judgemental relationships are integral and infant play is encouraged and supported. We have observed ‘regressive play’ taking place as teenage children become engrossed in play activities such as sand-pit play with other infants, or painting in the classroom. We think that the therapeutic role of this play together with the non-judgemental adult support has a key role in the success of this project with children who often have a disturbed attachment history.
Placement or Mentoring
After referral our comprehensive assessment gathers information from Children’s Social Care, the secondary schools, CAMHS, the Virtual School, and police where relevant. At this stage we find that some young people are not yet ready for the school placement programme, but may benefit from personalised outreach mentoring support. This may lead to future enrolment on the placement programme. Other young people may choose not to take part in the placement programme and instead choose to take up the mentoring support.
The evaluations and assessment of our first year include the use of our Risk Matrix tool which shows the LAC have built confidence and self-esteem. During the placements they have taken on the role of assistants in the classroom and playground, whilst being carefully supported by their Lead Adult in the school. As the teenagers are encouraged to develop their own interests within the infant school e.g. running lunch time clubs on their own, they have gained skills in team-work, built time-keeping skills, and found themselves helping the younger children, playing a fulfilling and useful role which the professional adults around them respect and appreciate. One young person reported that the placement was their “one positive experience of the week”.
Feedback from the Looked after children’s secondary schools is also positive showing improved motivation and achievement in the secondary educational setting. One young person previously at risk of permanent exclusion was put forward as the school ambassador for anti-bullying following his completion on the programme. All the young people who have completed the placement have remained on the role of their school and have not been excluded. The schools reported: ‘The young person’s face lit up when she spoke about the children, it gave her something positive to talk about, and it gave her a sense of kudos with her peers in school’ and for another young person: ‘She was known for herself, not someone in care or a troubled person’.
We recognise that the nature of work with LAC is challenging and we are determined that this project is safe as well as fulfilling its objectives. A full risk assessment is carried out for the young person, building on information gathered from all partners involved, including the police, where appropriate. During the process of risk assessment some children are not considered ready or safe for the school placement programme, and if appropriate they will be referred onto the mentoring programme. Additionally we have built in one-to-one support (see Appendix 1c) for those who are guiding/mentoring the LAC, including lead adults, Head Teachers of participating schools and outreach mentors.
As this project is an innovative model that breaks new ground it has been deliberately designed to be 'open' and subject to regular review and on-going evaluation.