Schools “could do better” to help young carers achieve more in the classroom, says a Bradford children’s charity.
New census figures show the city has 1,276 young carers aged 15 and under who are shouldering the burden of extra responsibilities at home before and after lessons.
And there are serious concerns they are lagging behind in school, getting lower grades, and that they could be at risk of bullying because of those pressures.
To tackle the problem head-on, Barnardo’s in Bradford wants every secondary school to identify members of staff to be Young Carers Champions.
So far, seven schools across the city have signed up with another three about to install trained ‘champions’ as a listening ear to carer pupils and give them extra support.
Peter Rutherford, children’s service manager at Bradford Barnardo’s, said: “It’s about making this support accessible in school, getting help where and when it’s needed.
“We have to get more schools to take on their responsibility of supporting these young people. It can be a win all round situation when it works.
“Schools need to be less punitive and more caring. We’re asking for a little bit of flexibility around the demands of school life, more understanding when a pupil’s not getting to school on time, isn’t handing homework in on deadline or is distracted in the classroom. The idea of the champions is that young people can get to someone in school to talk to.
And he added: “The pay-off for schools is that if young carers get the support they need, attendance and grades will be improved. Any behavioural issues can be more positively managed.”
A mentoring scheme – believed to be the first of its kind in the UK – is already working in Bradford to help young carers up their grades.
For the past three years Barnardo’s and Bradford Grammar School has been running a homework and exam study club pairing up older students with young carers to help them catch up on school work and build up confidence.
It was the brainchild of Barnardo’s volunteer Carole Rowe, a former teacher, who started it off with six young carers and mentors in 2011 – it has now doubled in size.
Every Thursday, 12 young carers, aged 11 to 16, travel to the grammar school to meet with their mentors and have one-on-one study sessions – three more of the school’s teachers have also signed up to be volunteers.
Parvathi Kanakath, 17, spends two hours a week helping one 14-year-old with her GCSE English.
Young carer Maddie, 15, has been going to the club for the past two years and has had a lot of time off school worrying about her mum who has anaphylaxia.
She says thanks to her mentor’s help her maths grade has risen from an F to a C. She said: “I didn’t feel confident enough to speak up in the classroom at school. Now I know that the time spent with my mentor is helping me. I do feel proud of myself for changing my grades but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Akash.”
Sidonie, who is 16 and helps care for her older brother who is autistic, also goes to the club and has upped her science grade from D to B. She said: “There are a lot of big characters in my class at school and I felt shy and didn’t want to ask questions. With my mentor, I can ask whatever I want. I really enjoy it, I’ve been to every session. It’s also given me confidence to talk to people I don’t know.”
Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Council’s executive member for children’s services, said the position of young carers was often “a hidden issue” and needed to be spoken about more.
“Some children are actually bringing themselves up. It can turn from being a care responsibility into neglect or harm. Recognising young carers and to get support for them into schools is a high priority for us.”
The Council’s Conservative spokesman for Children’s Services Roger L’Amie said the city’s census figures might not represent “the bulk” of young carers who exist.
He said: “There will be some in our district who don’t want their home circumstance to be widely known, for fear of being shamed about it or even being taken into care.
“I’d support anything that can reach out to more of these young people. I think schools aren’t always as understanding as they could be, there has to be better co-operation in these schools so the people who need to know who these children are, do know but it has to be done with some sensitivity to maintain confidentiality.”
The Children’s Society, working with the Carers Trust, has also just announced a new national schools programme in the hope of preventing tens of thousands of young carers being unnoticed by teachers in classrooms.
It will be providing resources and training to make sure young carers get vital support and in turn schools will be awarded bronze, silver or gold status. A recent Children’s Society survey showed about one in 20 young carers miss school because of the amount of support they have to provide at home, they get significantly lower GCSE grades and a quarter reported bullying because of their caring role.