Celebrating the magic of Reading’s fostering community

Fostering communities is the theme of this year’s Foster Care Fortnight and Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) will be celebrating the brilliant fostering community in Reading and encouraging more people to join it.

Foster Care Fortnight, which runs 9 – 22 May, is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign delivered by The Fostering Network charity.

This year’s focus is on celebrating the strength and resilience of fostering communities and all they do to ensure children are cared for and supported to thrive.

BFfC’s Fostering team will be out and about in Reading inviting people to learn more about the magic of the town’s fostering community.

Events include:

  • Activities at Forbury Fiesta in Forbury Gardens on Saturday 14 May, 11am-4pm
  • A stand outside Waterstones in Broad Street as part of Reading Children’s Festival on Tuesday 17 May, 10am-2pm
  • A free inspiring online introduction to fostering locally in association with the Parent and Family Network at the University of Reading, along with foster carers and care experienced students. Thursday 12 May, 12noon-1pm. Email: parentfamilynetwork@reading.ac.uk to register.
  • An online information session with one of our foster carers on Wednesday 25 May, 5.30-6.30pm. Email: foster@brighterfuturesforchildren.org for details.

We will also be sharing stories and information via BFfC’s social media channels throughout Foster Care Fortnight at: BFfC_Child on Twitter, @BFfCChild on Facebook, LinkedIn and @ReadingYoungPeople on Instagram.

BFfC’s Fostering service is an Ofsted-rated ‘Good’ provider which operates as a not-for-profit agency on behalf of Reading Borough Council.

Our foster carers have been talking about their fostering experience.

One foster carer said: “I don’t think anyone should be scared of fostering. It’s a big decision to make but with support it can be absolutely amazing and actually we get more out of it than the children do sometimes.”

Another said: “If you’ve got a spare room and you’ve got a lot of love to give, and you’re ready to take on somebody else, do it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I wish I’d done it years ago.”

Di Smith, Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children, said: “We have an amazing fostering community in Reading and I am delighted to be celebrating the work of everyone who’s part of it during Foster Care Fortnight.

“We want more people to know about the magic of our fostering community and to become a part of it so more Reading children can continue to be cared for in their hometown.

“I would urge anyone who has ever considered fostering to visit our Fostering team at an event or sign up to one of the online sessions to find out more.”

Why not enquire about fostering today? Call: 0118 469 3020, email: foster@brighterfuturesforchildren.org or visit www.readingfostering.co.uk.


First preference primary school places offered to 89% of Reading families

Almost 90% of Reading parents have been offered their first preference of primary school for their child this year.

Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC), which delivers education services in Reading, has ensured all primary school pupils in the borough have a place for September.

Ninety-eight per cent of Reading parents have been offered one of their top three preferences and 89% were offered their first, compared to 90% last year. Only two per cent of parents were not offered one of their preferences, the same as last year.

BFfC received 1,844 applications for primary school places this year compared with 1800 in 2021. However, the number of applications received after the deadline has brought the figure close to the forecast number of 1,978. Late applications have still to be processed.

There were 148 pupils who needed an infant to junior school transfer this year. Reading has only two schools for which this transfer is necessary and 100% of on-time applicants received their first preference.

Deborah Glassbrook, Executive Director of Children’s Services at BFfC, said: “We are pleased to be able to offer so many Reading families a place for their child in one of their three preferred primary schools this year. And almost 90% have been offered their first preference.

“It is such an exciting time for families when their children start primary school and we send our very best wishes to them for their big day in September.

“I would also like to take the opportunity to thank our wonderful primary schools in Reading for all their amazing hard work over the last two challenging years.”

Reading primary school place offers 2022/2021

2022

(%)

2021

(%)

2022

(pupil numbers)

2021

(pupil numbers)

1st preference offers 88.85 89.73 1641 1625
2nd preference offers 6.5 5.36 120 97
3rd preference offers 1.95 1.66 36 30
4th preference offers 0.49 0.5 9 9
Pupils offered divert 2.11 2.15 38 39

 


New Director of Education appointed

A new permanent Director of Education for Reading has been appointed by Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC).

Brian Grady, whose hometown is Reading, will bring with him 20 years of public service experience when he joins BFfC from the London Borough of Brent on 1 May.

Mr Grady has held leadership roles with responsibility for improving educational outcomes across early years, primary and secondary schools in a county, unitary authority and London borough. Most recently he has been Operational Director for Safeguarding, Partnerships and Strategy in Brent.

Achievements include delivering 32 children’s centres across a county, establishing new primary and secondary provision rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and overseeing programmes to improve attainment for disadvantaged groups.

Mr Grady said: “Reading is a special place. We have all the ingredients for every Reading child and young person to thrive and succeed.

“As a local resident I see excellence in our local education system, but I also know that not every Reading child benefits from all of the opportunities we have on offer.

“I am looking forward to working with schools and partners across the borough, with the aim of creating a truly outstanding education system that benefits all children and young people in Reading.”

Di Smith, Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children, said: “I am delighted to be welcoming Brian to Brighter Futures for Children as our permanent Director of Education.

“He comes with an impressive record of achievements and a vast amount of experience which I know will be a huge benefit to Reading.

“Brian has high ambitions for education in Reading and is passionate about giving all children and young people in the town the chance to flourish and enjoy a bright future.”

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Sue Imbriano for her work as Interim Director of Education over the last six months.”

 


Work starts on new SEND school

Partnership press statement

There’s great news for local young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as work has started on site to build the new Oak Tree School in Winnersh, which is currently on track to open in September 2023.

Backed by both Wokingham and Reading Borough Councils in partnership with Brighter Futures for Children, the school is being built and funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and managed by Maiden Erlegh Trust, which is already responsible for running several schools locally.

The new free school, which will cater for children and young people of all ages, will provide 150 places for children with autism (ASD) and social emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties from across Wokingham and Reading.

The provision of high quality SEND education will greatly support local families. In addition to both councils saving money when compared with funding out of area placements, many children and young people will benefit from wider school activities and experiences without needing to travel long distances from their home.

Jonathon Peck, CEO (Designate) of Maiden Erlegh Trust said: "On behalf of Maiden Erlegh Trust I am delighted to see that work has finally begun to construct Oak Tree School which will provide much needed specialist provision locally for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my colleagues who have worked tirelessly to bring this scheme forward but also to colleagues at Wokingham and Reading Borough Councils, Brighter Futures for Children, the DfE and Reds10 for their support and commitment. I look forward to seeing the build progress over the coming weeks and months."

Oak Tree School is being built by off-site construction specialist Reds10 who have a great reputation for working closely with the Wokingham community to minimise the impact of construction works and have been responsible for successfully delivering several local projects like the recent Dinton Activity Centre in Winnersh and the award-winning expansion of Addington SEND School in Woodley.


BFfC supports LGBT+ Adoption & Fostering Week 2022

Brighter Futures for Children’s (BFfC) fostering service in Reading – which is rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted -is supporting a national campaign to encourage more members of the LGBT+ community to consider becoming foster carers.

LGBT+ Adoption & Fostering Week, starting 7 March, aims to raise awareness and drive change by increasing the number of LGBT+ people caring for children looked after.

The theme of this year’s campaign is #BeTheChange and asks LGBT+ people to think about the range of vulnerable children they could parent or care for.

BFfC, the independent, not-for-profit company which runs children’s services on behalf of Reading Borough Council, is keen to dispel myths that could be deterring some people from becoming foster carers.

Some questions regularly asked by people enquiring about fostering in Reading are:

Q. I’m gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans/LGBTQ+, can I foster?

A. Yes, we welcome foster carers from all backgrounds and people of any gender or sexuality can foster. Having a varied life experience, such as coming out as gay or lesbian, is one of the important elements a foster carer can bring to the role.

Q. I’m single, can I foster alone?

A. Absolutely, you can be single, married or in a relationship and you can still foster with us.

Q. I don’t have children, can I foster?

A. Yes, you can. We will discuss with you what kind of experience you have of working with children and caring. If you think you need more experience, volunteering with a local childcare service is a great option.

Q. Do I need to own my home?

A. No you don’t. As long as you have a spare room and space for a child you can own or rent your home.

Q. What are the main criteria for fostering in Reading?

A. You need to be over 21, have a spare room, be a UK resident and live within 20 miles of Reading.

Deborah Glassbrook, Executive Director of Children’s Services, said: “There is no such thing as a typical foster carer in Reading. We have people from many different backgrounds doing an amazing job of caring for our children in care.

“It doesn’t matter about your gender, sexuality, age, race, living arrangements or employment status. If you’re over 21, care about children, have a spare room and want to make a real difference for children, we want to hear from you.”

BFfC’s fostering service has just been rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted. Inspectors said there was a wide range of support on offer to foster carers, including additional training, access to specialist clinical advice and support groups.

If you are interested in finding out more about fostering, visit www.readingfostering.co.uk, call 0118 469 3020 or email foster@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

For more information about LGBT+ Adoption & Fostering Week, visit the New Family Social website:  New Family Social - LGBT+ Adoption & Fostering Week 2022

ENDS

Read the press release about the recent Ofsted inspection of BFfC’s fostering service at: https://brighterfuturesforchildren.org/bffc_fostering_good/.


Brighter Futures for Children’s fostering service improves to ‘Good’

The fostering service provided for Reading by Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) has improved its rating to ‘Good’ following a recent Ofsted inspection.

Inspectors awarded ‘Good’ to the three key areas of: overall experience of children and young people, how well children and young people are helped and protected and the effectiveness of leaders and managers.

The Ofsted report published today (Friday 4 March) says there is a clear vision at BFfC’s Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) which is ambitious and forward thinking and that outcomes for children and support for foster carers is improving. The service had previously been judged as requiring improvement to be good.

BFfC’s IFA is a not-for-profit fostering service which operates on behalf of Reading Borough Council.

Overall experience of children and young people

The inspectors, who visited 18-24 January, found that children in care have a sense of permanence and stability and are well matched to foster carers who have the relevant experience and skills to care for them.

The report says: “Their lives are enhanced by the care and nurture that fostering families give. This is because supervising social workers and foster carers advocate on their behalf and ensure that children’s needs are put first.”

Foster carers are praised for going above and beyond what is expected of them to ensure children see their family and friends, which helps them develop secure and trusting relationships. Despite the pandemic, foster carers enabled children to meet up with family and friends safely by organising picnics and outside activities.

A wide range of support is on offer to foster carers, including additional training, access to specialist clinical advice and support groups which, inspectors say, has resulted in children’s lives being enhanced and their voices heard.

The report also notes that BFfC IFA staff and foster carers have positive relationships with professionals, which has contributed to significant progress for some children.

Committed and proactive foster carers were also found to support children of all faiths to ensure their religious and cultural needs are met.

How well children and young people are helped and protected

The inspection report says safeguarding children is embedded into practice. It notes that well-trained foster carers ensure appropriate actions are taken on the odd occasion when a child is not where they are expected to be. IFA staff also work closely with foster carers and the wider network to ensure correct procedures are followed which help to keep children safe.

Inspectors also noted that the recent recruitment of a trauma-informed practitioner has enhanced the support, advice and guidance offered to foster carers.

The effectiveness of leaders and managers

The report says management arrangements have recently been strengthened at the IFA. It says: “There is a clear vision for the service which is ambitious and forward thinking. Positive outcomes for children and support for foster carers has already improved.”

Inspectors commented that complaints are managed well and compliments from other professionals reflect some of the good practice seen during the inspection.

The report also states that senior managers are committed to the service and share the ambitious vision.

It says: “There is strong evidence of ongoing informed practice and development oversight to continually seek improved outcomes for children.”

Di Smith, Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children, said: “I am delighted with the outcome of the Ofsted inspection into our fostering service.

“I am particularly pleased the inspectors have highlighted how everyone involved in the fostering service has played a part in its improvement. The IFA staff, management, foster carers, supervising social workers and other professionals are all working together to achieve the best possible outcomes for Reading children.

“While we are very pleased with this finding, we will continue to focus on further, long-term improvements to the service we offer.

“I would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and commitment and invite anyone thinking about becoming a foster carer in Reading to come and join the team.”

Cllr Liz Terry, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Children’s Services, said: “Congratulations to everyone at the fostering service for achieving a ‘Good’ Ofsted rating.

“Our foster carers do an incredible job looking after vulnerable children and young people in Reading and it is vital they have the support they need from the IFA.

“Of course, there is no room for complacency and we will continue to work together to ensure the improvements seen so far continue in the future for the benefit of all Reading’s children in care.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about fostering in Reading, should visit www.readingfostering.co.uk, call 0118 469 3020 or email foster@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

NOTES TO EDITORS


More than 90% of Reading students offered preferred secondary school place

Ninety-two per cent of Reading students have been offered a place in one of their preferred secondary schools this year.

Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) has ensured that every secondary school pupil in Reading has a place for September despite strong competition.

The percentage who received their first or second preference is 85% compared with 84% last year. Ninety per cent were offered their first, second or third choice, which was the same as the previous year.

There was an increase in the percentage of pupils offered their first preference from 67% to 69%.

The percentage of students not allocated any of their preferences remained at 7%.

Deborah Glassbrook, Executive Director of Children’s Services at BFfC, said: “We have worked closely with Reading’s secondary schools to ensure every student has a school place, and 92 per cent of children will be going to one of their preferred schools.

“I would like to send best wishes to all the young people who will be experiencing the excitement of starting in their new school in September.

“I would also like to thank all Reading schools for their incredible hard work during challenging times over the last two years.

“We will continue to work with our colleagues at Reading Borough Council, neighbouring local authorities, academy trusts and the Department for Education, to provide more school places to meet demand in the future.”

The percentage of pupils allocated to school outside Reading was 28%, which is the same as last year.


New training video to boost understanding of young people with additional needs

Issued on behalf of Berkshire West CCG, Special United & Brighter Futures for Children

Ten young Reading people with autism and/or additional needs feature in a new training video to help school teachers and other professionals better understand pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

The stars of the short film explain in their own words what schools and other professionals could do to improve life for young people with additional needs.

The video is a collaboration between Special United, Reading’s SEND youth forum, which is part of Reading Families’ Forum; Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC).

A full-length version of the film featuring Angel, Ash, Casie, Grace, Harry, Jacob, Zimal, Zion, Zoe and Zoya, will be available to schools alongside an offer of specialist training from the Autism Education Trust, and with bitesize clips which focus on the areas of:

  • How to make your school more accessible
  • How to help us thrive at school
  • How to help other students understand our needs
  • How people outside of school can support us
  • How to support our further education and careers

The videos may also be used as learning resources in other public and voluntary bodies. They are available on YouTube for professionals to watch and to learn a little more about young people with SEND.

Ramona Bridgman, Chair of Reading Families’ Forum, said: “Reading Families’ Forum is immensely proud of all the young people who attend Special United. This video is a credit to their dedication to improving services for other young people.”

Berkshire West CCG financed the making of the video.

Niki Cartwright, Interim Director of Joint Commissioning at Berkshire West CCG, said: “Berkshire West CCG is delighted to have been able to support this project. Understanding how to make school more accessible for young people with additional needs is vital to allow them the opportunity to thrive as they grow, and tools such as this video are invaluable in the effort to provide an even footing for all school children.”

The project is part of a growth approach to autism adopted in Reading in response to an increasing number of autistic children and young people in the borough. It aims to improve their experiences in education and with other public services. You can find out more on the BFfC website. (https://brighterfuturesforchildren.org/professionals/school-standards-services/school-standards-service-a-growth-approach-to-autism/)

BFfC, which helped with the co-ordination and publicity of the project, operates a local Autism Education Trust (AET) hub which offers specialist training to early years, schools and post-16 settings. It’s education experts who have become AET lead trainers will also be running courses for other public and voluntary bodies in Reading in 2022.

Di Smith, Board Chair at Brighter Futures for Children, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with Special United and Berkshire West CCG to spread the message that autism is a difference, not a deficit.

“The brilliant Special United video perfectly complements our growth approach to autism in Reading and will be an invaluable training tool for schools and other public and voluntary organisations.

“Our partnership with the Autism Education Trust will give staff working in public services and organisations in Reading access to high quality training which in turn will lead to more positive experiences for children and young people with autism.”

The full-length video and short version can be viewed on the BFfC You Tube channel.

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Special United is a youth forum for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and their siblings aged eight to 25 within Reading borough.
  • Berkshire West CCG is responsible for commissioning NHS services for its population of 550,000 people, which includes those provided by Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and services provided by GP practices.
  • Brighter Futures for Children is a not-for-profit company, owned by, but independent of, Reading Borough Council which is responsible for delivering children’s social care, early help and education services in Reading.
  • Shuut, which produced the film, is a small video production company with a strong track record of working with public sector and voluntary organisations.

Additional SEND places created at Reading schools

BRIGHTER FUTURES FOR CHILDREN & READING BOROUGH COUNCIL PRESS RELEASE

Additional places for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) have been created in two primary schools in Reading.

Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) has worked with Reading Borough Council (RBC) on the schemes which will create 18 additional places.

More projects are being planned to meet the increasing demand for SEND places in the Reading area. The programme includes major projects, such as the construction of a new special free school, as well as creating extra places for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools.

New provision for children with social and communication difficulties (SCD) and autistic spectrum conditions formally opened in Southcote Primary School in September. It will be expanded to cater for 12 pupils by September 2022.

The resource will promote the inclusion of pupils with SEND and provide support, advice and training to parents of children with SCD and to school staff.

A satellite class of The Avenue School has also been created at The Ridgeway Primary School where six children started in September.

Di Smith, Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children, said: “These two projects are great examples of BFfC, the Council and schools working together to meet the needs of children with SEND.

“The Ofsted/CQC Reading local area SEND inspection in the summer noted that local leaders recognise areas which are of most concern to parents, such as the availability of specialist school places, and that plans are under way to address these issues.

“The resources at Southcote and The Ridgeway are part of an ongoing programme to create more SEND school places for Reading pupils and there are other exciting projects under way and in the pipeline.”

Cllr Ashley Pearce, Lead Councillor for Education, said: “There is an identified gap in provision for children with social and communication difficulty in west Reading so the additional places at Southcote Primary are very welcome.

“The new satellite class at The Ridgeway will also provide much needed places while work takes place to expand The Avenue School.

“It makes a big difference for families of children with SEND to have the required resources in schools close to home and we will continue to work with our partners to provide more specialist places around Reading borough.”

Plans are under way to convert and refurbish former office space to create places for an additional 60 pupils at The Avenue School in Tilehurst.

Building work is also progressing well on creating the new home for Hamilton School, previously known as Phoenix College. The SEMH school will cater for up to 64 students aged between 11 and 18.

BFfC and RBC are currently working with Wokingham Borough Council, the DfE and Maiden Erlegh Trust on the creation of Oak Tree School in Winnersh which will provide 75 places for pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) and/or an Autism Spectrum Condition.  A revised opening date for the school is yet to be announced.


Reading wins national award for Best SEND Local Offer

A service which provides information and support for Reading families with children who have special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND) has won a national award.

The Reading Family Information Service (FIS)/SEND Local Offer won the award for the Best SEND Local Offer at a ceremony last week.

The Local Offer, provided by Brighter Futures for Children, helps families find information about local services, support, activities and events for children and young people who have SEND.

The award was presented at the online National Association of Family Information Services (NAFIS) Coram Family & Childcare conference on Tuesday (9 November). It recognises the remarkable commitment and dedication behind setting up a successful Local Offer which meets the needs of families, and provides information and support which is robust, timely and accessible.

Among other things, Reading SEND Local Offer was also recognised and congratulated for:

  • always using the three Cs in every aspect of the SEND Local Offer – communication, collaboration and coproduction
  • true partnership working with parent carers, young people and the wider community
  • offering more than just a directory/website and providing a full robust information, advice and guidance service to Reading families – going above and beyond
  • partnership work with Reading Families Forum

The conference also heard the positive comments made in the recent Ofsted/CQC Local Area SEND inspection, which said: “Parents of children and young people with SEND have access to good information and advice from the family information service and the local offer. There is widespread awareness among families of where to go to find information and advice. The local offer is responsive to families’ needs, following up all initial contacts to ensure that the identified needs have been met.”

The award was presented by the Chief Executive Officer of Coram Family & Childcare Dr Carol Homden CBE.

Di Smith, Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children, said: “Congratulations to everyone involved in the Reading SEND Local Offer for winning this well-deserved award.

“Navigating your way around the different services and organisations which provide support for children and young people with additional needs can be difficult for parents. I am delighted that Reading families have such a committed and dedicated team to support them.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

The SEND Local Offer can be contacted in the following ways: