14 SES 08 B, Parents and Literacy Interventions
The 'Letterbox Club' is a project that aims to improve the achievement in reading and number of children aged 7 to 11 in public care in the UK. Each child who is a member of the Letterbox Club receives a parcel once a month for six months, addressed to them personally at their residential address, and containing reading books, stationery items and a maths game. The children decide for themselves what to do with the materials provided; the majority choose to engage in reading and playing number games with their foster parents, siblings and other family members, as well as using the materials on their own.
Our paper to ECER in 2009 reported on key features that contributed to the success of this intervention in 2007 and 2008, during a national pilot in England with 1500 children and 50 local authorities. The national pilot showed children's reading and maths scores that improved by more than would be predicted compared to national norms, and indicated increased levels of engagement between children and carers in educational activity at home.
At ECER 2010, we examined the ways in which the Letterbox Club might contribute to building children's resilience, which "involves a person faring better than might be expected in the face of serious adversity" (Gilligan, 2008), and considered the extension of the programme to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, countries which have different ways of organising children's services.
This paper aims to track the process followed in the development of the Letterbox Club across the entire period of activity from 1998 to 2010, in order to examine the issue of how educational research can have an impact - a current concern across Europe and further afield. We have already considered the direct impact on participating children and their foster carers at previous conferences; the main focus of this paper is to discuss the key elements that led to the successful impact of the research on policy and practice in the education of looked-after children, and which encouraged a large enrollment in the programme by local authorities in 2009 and 2010.
The project will be considered in four stages. Stage One (1998 to 2002) studied foster carers', social workers' and teachers' views of their roles in overseeing and promoting the education of children in foster care. Foster carers were interviewed to explore the ways in which they might be enabled to support their foster children, through professional development courses or a handbook, or the direct provision to carers of educational materials to use with children.
Stage Two (2003 to 2006) looked at ways of providing materials directly to children instead, and developed an effective, practical and economical programme. This facilitated an application for substantial funding, and led to Stage Three (2007 to 2008), a national pilot, which is described briefly above.
Stage Four saw the programme becoming a self-financing subscription service, and a rapid expansion across the four countries of the UK. A change in government in 2010 may further influence the impact the programme might have in the future.
Department for Education and Skills (2007). Care Matters: Time for Change. Norwich: The Stationery Office. Fletcher-Campbell, F. (1997) The Education of Children who are Looked-After. Slough: National Foundation for Educational Research. Gilligan, R. (2008) Promoting resilience in young people in long-term care - the relevance of roles and relationships in the domains of recreation and work. Journal of Social Work Practice, 22: 1, 37-50. Griffiths, R., Comber, C. and Dymoke, S. (2010) The Letterbox Club 2007 to 2009: Final Evaluation Report. London: Booktrust. Jackson, S. (1994) Educating Children in Residential and Foster Care. Oxford Review of Education, 20 (3), 276-279. Martin, P.Y. and Jackson, S. (2002) Educational Success for Children in Public Care: advice from a group of high-achievers. Child and Family Social Work, 7, 121-131. Social Exclusion Unit (2003) A Better Education for Children in Care. London: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
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