DEBRA FEARNS' story is one of success against the odds. As a child brought up in care, she is living proof of the impact teachers can have on troubled, young lives.
Without the assertive parents most children rely on, Mrs Fearns successfully managed to negotiate the educational system and qualify as a senior lecturer in the faculty of health and human sciences at the University of Hertfordshire.
The mother of three, who lives in London Colney, attributes her success to the support she was given by an English teacher at her secondary school, saying: "Mrs Hoole believed in me absolutely and that has enabled me to be where I am today."
Loading article content
But in most cases statistics for the educational achievement of children in care are damming. Only a quarter of them leave school with any kind of academic qualification, compared with 94 per cent of the rest of the school population.
In a bid to help other children in care, she discussed her own experiences in front of more than 150 teachers and social workers at the launch of Herts and Minds a Hertfordshire County Council initiative aimed creating better opportunities for children in care.
The policy aims to provide these children with additional support throughout their academic years by allocating them a designated teacher within each school, and through higher education if applicable.
Addressing delegates at the launch, Mrs Fearns said: "One of the most challenging aspects facing the education system is engaging such children with education.
"From my own experience, engaging with schools and education proved to be my salvation. Unfortunately for the majority of such children this is not the case and both schools and education tend to be discarded first.
"I believe that one particular innovation of this policy will be crucial and this is the role of the designated teacher within each school.
"This role will ensure that each school will be fully informed of each pupil in public care and will, therefore, be in a strong position to implement individual and appropriate educational support for each child."
Speaking of her own academic experience, Mrs Fearns, who is also a governor at Francis Bacon School in St Albans, said: "I was very lucky that I both enjoyed school and was academically able.
"School gave my life structure and order that was lacking at home. Individual teachers were encouraging of my desire to learn and enabled me to engage with education.
"However the help and support I received were dependant on the individual characteristics of the teachers. Those that were interested in me as a child were able to push me into achieving more than I believed was possible.
"It is my hope that the formalisation of a designated teacher in each school will go a long way in enabling looked-after children to benefit from some of the positive aspects of support in school that I received."
The new approach to the issue of children's education in care coincides with the this month's integration of Education and Social Services into Children, Schools and Families, which it is hoped will encourage a more co-ordinated approach at ground level.
A county council spokesman said: "Children in care often have to deal with difficult personal circumstances, so it's even more important that they should get proper support in school.
"To this end we have made a number of changes to practice, including extra financial support to schools, a dedicated team of advisory teachers and a designated teacher in each school."