The project aimed to look at the impact of boarding in state and independent boarding schools for children identified as ‘in need’, defined as those that require Local Authority support of some kind. It was intended to be co-funded with Local Authorities, boarding schools, the Department for Education (DfE) and other educational trusts. Buttle UK agreed to cover the majority of staff costs.
Children eligible for Free School Meals are disproportionately over-represented among children in need and looked after children. Those identified as children in need have even poorer educational outcomes than looked after children and one explanation for this is the lack of stability that they experience. There is promising evidence on the impact of boarding from the US and Buttle UK’s previous work.
We had originally planned to evaluate the project through a two armed, individual-level randomised controlled trial, with pupils who were deemed eligible for the approach by local authorities randomised to either receive boarding or go to the secondary school they would have otherwise attended. However, receiving enough referrals from local authorities was incredibly challenging and we didn’t recruit enough young people to make the trial statistically secure.
Many local authorities were reluctant to refer children to be randomly allocated to receive boarding or not, though it is important to stress that pupils were not to be informed of the possible offer of boarding until they had been allocated to the intervention group to receive it, to avoid the young person being unnecessarily disappointed. Once this process was completed, Buttle UK would have needed to find a suitable school match and, of course, the family and child would have needed to be happy with the school; no unconditional guarantees could be made. The professionals involved in the care of these children wanted certainty about what would happen to them once a referral decision was made.
We adapted the methodology of the trial to take out the randomisation element and intended to test the project’s feasibility through a smaller pilot trial. However the challenges associated with referring children to take part were so great that we have been unable to take this approach to trial. Many Local Authorities were concerned that they didn’t have the staff or financial resources to take part, others wanted to focus on their ‘in house’ provision and expanding the initiatives they already run.