What works for children looked after?

This section responds to concerns from Virtual School Heads that there was very limited information on ‘what works’ to improve educational outcomes for children looked after. Children looked after have frequently had disrupted educational experiences, for a variety of reasons, and their progress needs to be accelerated so that learning gaps can be closed, and they can succeed educationally in line with their peers.

The suggestions made here are based on the extensive research conducted by the Sutton Trust and Educational Endowment Fund, investigating the impact of a variety of teaching and learning strategies on the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.  The effectiveness of these interventions specifically for children looked after has not been not explicitly investigated, but the strategies included below represent those that were found to have the greatest impact with respect to accelerated progress and improved attainment for vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.

The 6 strategies outlined are

  • Meta cognition and self-regulation
  • Collaborative learning
  • Effective feedback
  • Homework
  • 1:1 tuition
  • Peer tutoring

The choice of which approaches to develop will depend on the context of the school. All these strategies, whilst being highly effective for children looked after, are likely to need whole school implementation and leadership, rather than being used only with those children.  Where these strategies are effectively implemented, children looked after are likely to show gains in progress, leading to higher attainment and ultimately improved educational outcomes.

The final section outlines how schools can work with foster carers to improve outcomes for children looked after.  Foster Carer engagement should not be seen as an ‘add on’ or an ‘optional extra’.  Schools should place the engagement of Foster Carers as central to all their efforts to support children in care.  Any initiatives that schools develop for children looked after should be planned to include how Foster Carers will be actively engaged to ensure the success of the strategy.


Meta cognition and self-regulation

Metacognition and self-regulation are often known as ‘learning to learn’ strategies.  Pupils are taught specific strategies for setting goals, monitoring progress and evaluating their learning. 

Taylor (1999) defined metacognition as

  • Knowing what is already known.
  • Understanding what the task in hand requires.
  • Knowing what knowledge and skills will be needed to complete the task.
  • Being able to choose which existing knowledge or skills is needed in a situation.
  • Applying these principles effectively.

Zimmerman (2000) identified three phases in self-regulation, which are cyclical

  1. Forethought and planning:
  • Analyse the learning task.
  • Set goals towards completing the task.

 Performance and monitoring:

  • Use strategies to make progress in the learning task.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies.
  • Monitor motivation for completing the task.

 Reflection on performance

  • Evaluate performance on the learning task.
  • Manage the emotional response to the learning process.

 There are many models of how to implement metacognition and self-regulation in the classroom.   One cycle that can be used to develop these metacognitive and self-regulation skills is outlined by Alite and Alistair Smith (2007).



Connection Phase - connecting to what has been learned before and what is already known


  • Actively involve individuals, pairs and groups
  • Manage the emotional climate so that no-one and no group feels excluded
  • Agree the big picture of content and process:  “This is what we will do; this is how we will do it."
  • Use methods that encourage active participation including use of problems, case studies, role-play, props, story, visual or electronic aids to help
  • Sell the benefits of the learning outcomes “By the end of this lesson/topic we will know more about…, have learnt to…
  • Relate to pupils’ own targets and personal aspirations “When you concentrate/learn this….it will help reach….get more of…”
  • Identify success criteria. What will we see, hear, feel when we have completed this learning?


  • What do we already know about? Use hot-seating, list five things, group post-it blizzard
  • Questions: what questions would be really good to ask in order to find out about? How will we know we have learned about? How will we know we have been successful?
  • Visual cues… Images placed around the room – learners visit the picture gallery and make connections.
  • Watch clip from video and record five observations about…
  • Sealed Impression – A4 paper folded into 4 squares – record in three of the boxes key information, share with small group at start of lesson – complete the box after listening to others.

Activation Phase - to help learners begin to become familiar with the information they need to solve a problem, hypothesise or simply remember something that’s essential


  • Encourage learners to experience through seeing, hearing and doing
  • Construct meanings in a variety of group situations
  • Immerse the activity in structured language exchange
  • Provide opportunities to pause and describe, to pair/share, to reflect and to speculate, engage curiosity
  • Use good questioning techniques
  • Include opportunities for learners to make choices within the lesson: choice is a huge motivator
  • Recognise that there are different ways of accessing information and learning
  • Make it relevant to their situation/lives and how they can apply this new knowledge
  • Use context (people remember context better than content to aid memory)
  • Teacher input should be no longer than 10 mins


  • Multi-sensory immersion. See, hear and feel the content!
  • Real-life challenge.  Present the learning in the context of a real-life situation or problem to be solved.
  • Use of Home and Away Groups to carry out research of topic. Start in Home Group to develop question, action plan and finalise product. Go to Away Groups to become an ‘expert’ about aspects of the topic. Return to Home Group as the expert.
  • Set a research challenge using different roles. For example Edward De Bono’s thinking hats applied to a human geography issue about development.
  • Use of partial information provided as clues. For example, a profile of a historical figure with some key information omitted and only available from other groups.

Demonstration Phase - to provide opportunities for learners to ‘show they know’.This phase creates a loop with the activation phase.


  • Plan for multiple intelligences
  • Allow several rehearsals’ in multiple modes
  • Utilise different groupings
  • Provide educative feedback in or near the real experience from the teacher and/or others in the class
  • Place your feedback emphasis on improving not ‘proving’
  • Give specific advice about process and content improvements that can be acted on straight away
  • Plan for pupils to transfer their knowledge to a novel situation
  • Let pupils ‘teach each other’ to demonstrate their learning


  • Peer marking and assessment.
  •  Group or pair presentations to each other, another group or whole class.
  • Groups design a quiz with questions and their answers, swap in groups, return exam paper to ‘examiners’.
  • Learning bazaar: individuals visit different groups at stations and in turn where they can ask questions and be given information.
  • Press conferences.

Consolidation Phase - reflecting on what has been learnt  and how the learning occurred


  • Reflect on what has been learned and how it is linked to outcomes agreed in the Connection Phase, both for content and process.
  • Check against Success Criteria identified at the Connection Phase.
  • What do we now know and understand that we didn’t before?
  • How have we learned and how can we apply our learning methods elsewhere?
  • What worked and why?
  • What didn’t work and why?
  • Use combinations of paired, small group or whole class activity
  • Recognise and value the skills used in the learning/classroom
  • Apply the knowledge, skills and understanding into similar situations in the same or related subjects or into situations well removed from the present classroom or school


  • Keep an ongoing log of new concepts and strategies as they learn and develop them.
  • Create teams and using timed challenge, each team lists or maps what they have learnt, one person at a time recording on a flip chart!
  • Create blocks and walls of knowledge. Use three, two, one bricks to record most important points.
  • Summarise the key points from different perspectives or historical characters.
  • Informal and formal testing.


Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning activities are structured tasks that are designed to be tackled by groups of pupils. They are often set up as problems relating to sorting and organising information. The purpose of these activities is to make pupils explore and understand the nature of the subject content by thinking and talking together. In this way pupils are supported in activating their existing knowledge and experience and in making links with the new knowledge they are acquiring.

 Collaborative learning activities encourage pupils to:

  • Be active inquiring learners.
  • Access cognitively demanding texts and concepts.
  • Develop thinking and language skills.
  • Interact constructively with their peers.
  • Relate their own experiences (cultural and linguistic) and knowledge of the world to the curriculum.

Teachers need to:

  • Analyse and plan learning tasks rigorously.
  • Design group activities which are interactive and which provide visual and contextual support.
  • Link curriculum content with language and literacy development.
  • Observe and evaluate pupils’ learning.
  • Activate and build upon children’s prior knowledge and experience.

One of the main objectives of collaborative learning activities is to get pupils to interact verbally with each other. The materials are catalysts that cause pupils to talk to each other about the particular topic content. In order to do this the activity and the materials need to be sufficiently challenging. If the task is too simple there will be no need to apply a degree of thought in order to complete it and subsequently there will be no need to ‘talk’ about the content.

 Cooke (2005) identifies 3 broad types of activity that are especially suited to collaborative learning.  Some of these are outlined below.

Information gap activities

Information gap activities are ones in which a pupil has some information that other pupils need, and in turn requires information that other pupils have got.

Some examples of these are 

  • Pupil A has a picture that is coloured in but Pupil B only has an outline drawing of the same picture. Pupil A has to describe the colours and pupil B has to listen and colour the picture in.
  • Pupils A and B both have maps of the same area but both have pieces of information missing. Pupil A is missing some information that B can provide and pupil A can supply missing information to B. They have to work together to complete an information chart.
  • Give pupil A a set of pictures and pupil B a complementary set of different pictures. The pupils are given a common table to complete. In order to complete the table, the pupils will need to ask and answer questions about each other’s pictures.
  • Pupil A has a text which has half the information and Pupil B a text which has the rest of the information. They have a common set of questions to answer and can complete their task by asking and answering each other’s questions.

Information organising activities

These activities usually involve pupils in organising pieces of information in a variety of ways. Organising information may involve Matching, Sequencing, Sorting, Rank ordering or a combination of these.

Suggested Activities:

Sequencing - using a time line, action strip, life cycle or flow chart to explore topics, for example events leading up to WW1, how milk is processed, the carbon cycle.

rts of the eye and their function, the major regions and cities in the Weimar Republic.

Sorting - using spider diagrams, branching, tables to explore topics, for example properties of quadrilaterals, types of settlement, vertebrae groups

Ranking - using target diagrams, rating charts, diamond 9 activities , for example reactivity of metal elements, benefits of mega cities, causes of the second world war, what kind of exercise increases your pulse rate most?


Effective feedback

Feedback is information given to the learner about their performance in relation to learning goals.  Effective feedback should lead to improvements in pupil learning.  However, some studies have shown that poor quality feedback can have negative effects.  Therefore it is important that feedback is carefully implemented to achieve maximum benefits on learning.

Shute (2007) offers a selection of tips to ensure that feedback is effective.  Some of these are summarised here:

Let the learner go first - ask learners to specifically assess their performance in relation to the stated goals and objectives

Focus on the task, not the learner - Give feedback on specific aspects of the learners work in relation to the task, with suggestions about how to improve

Feedback must be very clear and specific - Link feedback directly to goals e.g. you have identified 4 things that happen in a Gurdwara.  Next you need to be able to explain why sharing food is important to Sikhs.

Give elaborated feedback, in manageable chunks - Feedback should indicate the “what, how and why” of what has and has not been successful in the task.  However, giving too much feedback at once can lead to negative effects. Give step by step feedback, allowing the pupil to edit and correct their work after each step

Focus on learning, not performance - Emphasise effort improves learning and that mistakes are an important part of the learning process

Provide feedback after the pupil has attempted a solution - Do not let pupils see answers before they have attempted the task as research evidence suggest that this is detrimental to learning

Do not compare the pupil to other learners - Feedback should be fully personalised to what the individual pupil needs to achieve, without comparison to other learners

Avoid giving overall grades - Feedback is most effective when it highlights areas of strength and gives information on how to improve, without giving an overall grade

Beware of the overuse of praise, but avoid being negative or critical - Remember feedback should be focused on the task, not the learner.  ‘Praise’ relates to the learner, not the task.  Similarly, criticism or very controlling feedback draws attention away from the task in hand

Written feedback is more effective than oral feedback - Learners experience written feedback as less biased and therefore more accurate

Timing of feedback

Immediate feedback helps tackle errors in real time, leading to more immediate gains and more efficient learning. Use for:

  • difficult tasks
  • retention of procedural or conceptual knowledge
  • verbal tasks
  • motor tasks
  • low achieving pupils

Delayed feedback is more effective where learning needs to be transferred (applied to a novel situation. Use for:

  • simple tasks
  • transfer tasks
  • high achieving pupil



Homework refers to tasks that teachers give to pupils to be completed outside of lesson time.  The effectiveness of homework has been extensively researched, but mainly in relation to whether homework improves the performance of schools.  There is some evidence that homework is beneficial.  Some studies have shown that progress in classes that have homework set is greater than in matched classes where homework is not given.  The benefits are greater at secondary school than at primary school.

Homework is most effective when it covers material that has already been taught. However, giving an assignment on material that was taught the same day is not as effective as an assignment given to review and reinforce skills learned in previous weeks and months.  Homework is less effective when it is used to teach complex skills.

 Good homework has the following characteristics

 Comes with clear instructions for pupils.

  • Can be completed successfully.
  • Is not too long.
  • Can be completed within a flexible time frame.
  • Use information and materials that are readily available.
  • Reinforce and allow practice of previously taught skills.
  • Is not just unfinished class work.
  • Is interesting to pupils and leads to further exploration or study.
  • Stimulates creativity and imagination in the application of skills.
  • Encourages pupils to work cooperatively.
  • Stimulates discussion at home and in school.

 The American Federation of Teacher’s (2011) provides suggestions for effective homework, which are summarised here:

1.    Plan homework with topics and skills that:

  • Are familiar to pupils.
  • Have been introduced in class.
  • Are interesting and challenging.
  • Can be completed in a reasonable amount of time according to age and level of attainment.
  • Give pupils the sense that they are making progress.
  • Review and reinforce skills already taught.

2.    Don’t set homework that is:

  • Boring.
  • Impossible to complete.
  • Requires complex skills.
  • Needs to be completed in unreasonable time frames.
  • Just finishing off work from class.
  • A punishment for not completing work in class.


3.    Develop a work ethic for work completed at home.  Create the general understanding that learning takes place inside and outside of school and classrooms.

4.    Plan ahead so that there is enough class time to give explicit directions for the homework assignment and to answer questions.

5.    Don’t assume that all pupils have resources at home or in the community and have Parents and Carers that can support them with their homework.  Ensure that all pupils have access to all resources needed to complete the homework assignment and that a clear explanation is given during the lesson and written directions are given.

6.    Have a special place in the classroom for homework to be handed in and collected from.

7.    Review and give feedback on all homework assignments that pupil have handed in.

8.    Do encourage carers to support their children’s homework effort, but avoid giving tasks that are so hard that they do the work for them, or creates conflict at home as carers become anxious that the child is failing or not concentrating in school.

9.    Do consider reasonable time frames for homework assignments, based on the purpose of the lesson. Some homework may span more than one day. If this is the case, give careful directions. Also, consider that other teachers may be giving homework with the same time frames. A homework timetable for each child should avoid overload.

10. Establish, teach and publish homework policies and procedures to ensure that pupils and carers understand them.  Information should include when assignments are due, where they are to be submitted, how to make up missed assignments, and connections between homework and class grades, if any.


 One-to-one tuition

One-to-one tuition is where an individual child receives intensive tuition.  One-to-one tuition is often targeted at closing gaps in literacy and numeracy.  This can take place during lesson time, or outside school hours.  Research evidence suggests that one-to-one tuition is most effective when:

  • It is in addition to normal lessons, rather than instead of them.
  • Short sessions of about 30 mins.
  • Regular sessions 3-5 times per week.
  • Time limited: 6-12 weeks.

The Department for Education (DfE) has identified characteristics of schools that have high impact one-to-one tuition.  These are summarised below.

Whole school structures

  • Senior leadership teams recognise the contribution tuition makes to wider school improvement, including attendance and behaviour, and ‘closing the gaps’.
  • One-to-one tuition is central to whole school provision mapping which ensures that it is appropriately targeted to meet pupils’ needs and maximise impact.
  • There are established, rigorous assessment practices.
  • Senior leaders are strategically involved in creative approaches to tutor recruitment.
  • Schools’ professional development structures make tutors feel supported and valued and ensure that the school learns from tuition.
  • Schools have clear systems for monitoring and evaluating impact of interventions.
  • Senior leadership teams are involved in quality assurance of tuition.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of tuition informs and supports quality first teaching.
  • One-to-one tuition is a regular item on all stakeholders’ agendas and communications including Parents and Carers and governors.
  • Continuing Professional Development opportunities are provided for all staff to refresh and strengthen tuition practice.

Organisation of one-to-one tuition

  • Targets for tuition are negotiated and based on day-to-day and ongoing teacher assessment.
  • Specific needs of the pupil inform the choice of tutor where appropriate.
  • Tutors do not rely on a scripted programme and flexibly adapt tuition to meet individual pupil needs, to tackle misconceptions and address critical learning gaps.
  • Tutors and pupils have opportunities for regular assessment and feedback. They reflect on learning and negotiate next steps and redefine targets where necessary.
  • Tuition focuses on the development of confidence – allowing pupils to own their learning and progress.
  • There is ongoing dialogue with the class teacher focused on reviewing targets and refining learning in the classroom
  • Tutors give regular updates to Parents and Carers about their child’s progress in tuition.
  • Completion of ten hours tuition is formally recognised e.g. with a certificate or presentation.

Characteristics of the tuition

  • Tutors’ subject knowledge enables them to identify and address learning gaps
  • Tutors use a wide variety of teaching and learning strategies, changing frequently to reflect the responses pupils make to learning challenges
  • Tuition consolidates learning and develops skills, providing opportunities for revisiting, reinforcing and embedding prior learning
  • There is significant pupil-led activity and questioning
  • Pupils are encouraged to think aloud and reflect on their learning processes
  • Effective strategies include:
  • scaffolding – supporting the gradual withdrawal of tutor control as the pupil becomes confident and independent;
  • post question wait-time - giving learners time to respond and reflect on responses as confidence increases;
  • questioning and prompting - tutors make the decision whether to question or prompt to develop pupil independence;
  • Identifying the next steps for a pupil to work on so that they can see the progress that they are making, and to ensure learning is embedded and transferable.

The Department for Education guidance documents for one-to-one tuition offer comprehensive details of how to implement one-to one tuition.  There are a plethora of lesson plans and resources available at www.teacherfind.com, using the search term ‘one to one tuition’.


Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring involves pupils working as academic tutors to other pupils.  Usually, a high performing pupil tutors a pupil who needs support with learning. 

There are a range of peer tutoring models available which include:

Class wide Peer Tutoring (CWPT): which involves dividing the entire class into groups of two to five pupils with differing ability levels.  Pupils then act as tutors, tutees, or both tutors and tutees.  Typically, CWPT involves highly structured procedures.  Pupil groups may change over the course of the programme.   Pupil pairings are based on achievement levels or pupil compatibility. 

Cross-age Peer Tutoring: Older pupils are paired with younger pupils to teach or review a skill.  The positions of tutor and tutee do not change. 

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS):  PALS, a version of the CWPT model, involves a teacher pairing pupils, who need additional instruction or help, with a peer who can assist.  Groups are flexible and change often across a variety of subject areas or skills.  All pupils have the opportunity to be a tutor or tutee at different times.  Pupils are typically paired with other pupils who are at the same skill level, without large discrepancies in ability.

Reciprocal Peer Tutoring (RPT):   Two or more pupils alternate between acting as the tutor and tutee during each session, with equal time in each role.  Often, higher performing pupils are paired with lower performing pupils. Pupils in RPT may prepare the learning materials and are responsible for monitoring and evaluating their peers on the goals identified by the teacher.

Same-age Peer Tutoring:  Peers who are within one or two years of age are paired to review key concepts.  Pupils may have similar ability levels or a more advanced pupil can be paired with a less advanced pupil.  Pupils who have similar abilities should have an equal understanding of the content material and concepts.  When pairing pupils with differing levels, the roles of tutor and tutee may be alternated, allowing the lower performing pupil to quiz the higher performing pupil.

Setting up an effective peer tutoring programme

Jenkins and Jenkins (1987) identify that there are several aspects that lead to effective peer tutoring programmes.

  1. Systematic training of tutors

 As well as needing to be trained in any specialised techniques, such as synthetic phonics, tutors also need to be trained in a range of skills including confirming accurate responses regularly, give praise, give constructive corrective feedback, positive verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and active listening skills.

  1. Highly structured and carefully prescribed lesson format

 Jenkins and Jenkins found that 90% of sessions could follow the same format and still be highly effective.  This frees teachers to become ‘managers’ of the peer tutoring programme rather than using time inventing new activities.

  1. Tutoring links directly to classroom activities

 Class teachers should define the content of the programme in line with the classroom curriculum content.  The success of the pupils should be evaluated based on classroom performance.

  1. Use a mastery-based model

 Teachers should carefully select the content of the programme.  In a mastery based model, a skill is identified and taught every day until the pupil has mastered it.

  1. Frequency and duration of the sessions

Research evidence suggests that daily sessions of about 30 minutes length are the most effective.

  1. Daily measurement of pupils’ progress

Tutors need to be taught how performance can be assessed within and outside the sessions.  The tutor and tutee should evaluate performance after each session and set a goal for the next session.  The manager of the peer tutoring programme should then monitor these goals, giving feedback regarding the quality of the goals.  The manager of the programme should also monitor how effectively the goals are met.  Tutors should also liaise with class teachers to evaluate the evidence of progress in class, and work with teachers to modify the targets set for peer tutoring.

Jenkins and Jenkins also give further useful information, including how to start a peer tutoring programme, and how to recruit tutors.  Starting small, identifying pupils who need additional practice of key skills, seems to be the most effective model for long term sustainability.  In this respect, CLA are likely to represent the ideal cohort to initiate a programme with.  In terms of recruitment, identification of possible tutors by teaching staff seems to be the most reliable. 



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[1] The research of Harris and Goodall (2007) did not single out Foster Carers, and so the research summary presented here is more generic: hence use of the phrase “carer” rather than “Foster Carer”