The start of a new year brings with it an opportunity for reflection – a chance for us to look at how we do things and what we might want to change.
For one group of pupils – a group that could be as large as one million across the UK – 2023 represents a landmark opportunity to improve their experience inside and outside of the classroom.
In every classroom, in every school, there are likely to be at least two pupils who are balancing their studies with caring for someone with a disability, physical or mental illness or addiction – young carers.
Being a young carer can have a significant impact on a young person’s education and wellbeing:
- one in four are bullied because of their caring role;
- one in three say their caring role resulted in them ‘always’ or ‘usually’ feeling ‘worried’, ‘lonely’ or ‘stressed’; and
- 27% of young carers struggle to balance caring with education.
Young carers on average achieve one grade lower per subject at GCSE than their peers who do not have a caring responsibility. And many of these young carers are trying to juggle school and caring on their own – Carers Trust’s survey of young carers in March 2022 found that:
- 52% said they do ‘not often’ or ‘never’ get help from school, college or university to balance caring and learning; and
- 40% ‘never’ or do ‘not often’ have someone at school to talk to about being a young carer.
Thankfully, this looks likely to change. From January 2023, the school census in England will, for the first time, include young carers as a group requiring formal identification.
Schools will record both whether a pupil is a young carer, and who identified them. This change is something that charities such as Carers Trust and The Children’s Society have called for over many years. This change will not only provide a much better picture of the number of young carers in schools, but it also has the potential to significantly increase awareness, identification and support for them.
Knowing who their young carers are can help schools ensure young carers are achieving their full potential by reviewing metrics such as attendance and attainment. This is something most schools are already doing for other potentially vulnerable groups.
The change to the census provides the perfect opportunity for schools to consider how best they can support their young carers. And the good thing is that they are not on their own.
Carers Trust and The Children’s Society run the Young Carers in Schools (YCiS) programme, which is a free initiative that provides schools across England with the tools and resources to support young carers.
YCiS helps schools to improve their confidence in identifying and supporting their young carers. Their local young carers service may well also be able to provide local support as well as support for the young carers that schools identify.
The addition of young carers to the school census provides a huge opportunity to improve the identification, support and ultimately outcomes for young carers – the challenge for all of us is to ensure we make the most of it. Because hundreds of thousands of young carers across the UK deserve nothing less.
At Community’s 2022 Biennial Conference, members voted to campaign to support and raise awareness of young carers.
Case study – St Michael’s VA Junior School
St Michael’s is a junior school in Norwich, Norfolk, and has 396 pupils aged 7 to 11. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school reached out to one of Carers Trust’s local network partners, Caring Together, because the school was aware it may have young carers in need of additional support.
To make sure they knew who their young carers were, all school staff (not just teaching staff) undertook young carers awareness training; and every class took part in awareness-raising activities with Caring Together.
This has led to 23 young carers being identified so far, with some children identifying themselves as young carers after the talks. They also have a Young Carer’s Club display board that gives information about what a young carer is and what support is available.
The school has appointed a member of staff to be a young carers champion. Pupils know they can go and talk to the young carers champion if they are having any worries about their caring role.
The school has also appointed some young carers themselves as champions. These champions help raise awareness of young carers and encourage other young carers to seek support should they need it.
The school runs its own Young Carer’s Club, which meets half-termly and provides young carers with the opportunity to have an informal chat and to celebrate themselves and each other. This is a chance to see that they are not alone, as well as to build relationships that are supportive and understanding amongst their peers.
In November 2021, the school was awarded Caring Together’s Carer Friendly Tick Award for its work to identify and support its young carers.
“As a school, we believe that it is important that we identify our Young Carers in order to allow them to get the most from their time at St Michael’s VA Junior School and do everything we can to support them and their families.”
Young Carers Champion
This is the longer version of an article from the January/February 2023 issues of Your voice in education and early years and Your voice in the third sector.