Rachel Marsden

Friday’s Child

I’m sure we’ve all heard the nursery rhyme, ‘Monday’s Child is Full of Grace…’. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on Friday’s Child, who, according to the pseudo-prophetic poem, is ‘loving and giving’. This innocent nursery rhyme highlights an age-old issue that has only come to the fore in recent years – the thousands of young people who, regardless of the day they are born, are so loving and giving that they spend a lot of their childhood caring for a loved one with a disability, long-term illness, or addiction. These are known in the UK as ‘Young Carers’, and a recent ITV Tonight documentary spotlit this phenomenon as a ‘hidden health service’.

Why Care about Young Carers?

As a former teacher, and current teacher educator, I’m interested in the impact that being a young carer  – indeed, providing a hidden health service – has on young people’s education. The Children’s Society (2013) reported that Young Carers, on average, have lower attainment at GCSE. This is not a marginal issue; in a recent podcast Manchester Metropolitan University’s Professor Saul Becker estimated that, on average, there are three young carers in every classroom.

I was a Young Carer myself. I had never thought of myself in those terms, though, until 10 years ago when I was asked to facilitate the identification of Young Carers in the secondary school in which I taught English. Only this year the Department for Education (DfE) has made it a requirement for schools to report the number of Young Carers they have on roll, but some schools have been diligently identifying and supporting Young Carers for over a decade. This may involve having a Champion to raise awareness and policies in place so staff can help. Practice is varied, though, and despite Barnardo’s (2017) recommendation that all teachers be trained to support Young Carers, this is not a component of Initial Teacher Training (ITT).

How can we help?

This is where Edge Hill University can help. The University has a history of supporting unpaid carers; for example, through the development of the Carers’ Alert Thermometer, CAT, and Service Users and Carers Group. I’d like to raise awareness of Young Carers in ITT, to better prepare teachers to identify Young Carers in their classrooms and to aid their success in education. To do this, I’m planning to work with schools to explore their data on Young Carers, to analyse whether these young people also fall into other risk categories, such as persistent absenteeism and economic disadvantage. I’d also like to speak with teachers who have been Young Carers themselves, as they occupy a unique position of having lived experience of caring, at the same time as understanding what is feasible for a teacher to do, among other competing priorities. In addition to tracking Young Carers in schools, I hope that this leads to a DfE policy of recording outcome and progression data on Young Carers, as they do for other vulnerable groups, and that understanding Young Carers becomes part of how we prepare teachers in ITT.