The Educational Experiences of Children in Care

September 12, 2018

As a foster carer and a teacher I was well aware of the weaker measured educational outcomes of children in care compared to the wider population. This was not an ‘academic’ matter, it was my lived experience, I supported the education of the young people in my care, and witnessed their struggles at my kitchen table. When I decided to undertake doctoral studies, I knew that I wanted to understand better what the experience of education was for a young person in the care of the state.



My project aimed to develop a better understanding of what ‘education’ meant if you were in care. I interviewed seven individuals, aged between 11 and 59, allowing them to tell me their stories. I met each participant on four or more occasions, when I gave them an overarching ‘theme’, and then listened to their tales. It was fascinating, amazing, harrowing and above all enlightening.



The study found that young people in care have a broad view of education, which extends well beyond the school building. There is so much to learn, from basic life skills and social skills, through to sporting and digital skills. These participants storied themselves as achievers within this wide view, with pride in their achievements.



The study identified learning through thinking, doing and being. It found that these young people were reflexive – they thought about their impact on the world around them; they were agentic, relating narratives where they said they had taken control of aspects of their lives, within the confines of the ‘care’ structures; and they exhibited a habitus, or identity, which helped them to learn who they were, and to recognise their achievements.





The model above was developed as a tool to facilitate the identification of ‘learning’ within this broad view of education. By focussing on thinking (reflexivity), doing (agency) and being (habitus), the model can help young people, and those in the care and education professions to recognise, record, and reward the broader learning which is happening, and to promote it, facilitating positive conversations around education.




-Dr Karen Kenny, Associate Academic Developer, The Education Incubator, University of Exeter



Karen can be reached via email at and on twitter at