Bernadette Cairns, Principal Educational Psychologist at the Highland Council Psychological Service writes about the need to collect relevant data and even more importantly the value of analysing the data to shape support for children and young people from Armed Forces families in the Highlands:
I love data, I love numbers, I love statistics, and I consider data gathering and analysis to be an essential part of my job in planning for children and young people. I just cannot see how you can plan and manage services without the data to show what the priority areas are, or whether what you are doing is making a difference.
In the Highlands area, I have a shared responsibility for strategic planning for children and young people from Armed Forces Families. In terms of data gathering for this group, we started small so we would know where our children were, and which schools they attended to target our support more effectively. This has remained a cornerstone of what we do. You can have great resources and materials, but if they do not reach the right people, all that effort is wasted.
To capture the data about the number of AFF children in our schools, we started with SEEMIS (our schools/pupil confidential data system). However, recorded numbers were low and even after a conference highlighting the need to record this data, we were still getting very inconsistent returns. We then realised that the trick was to add a question to the enrolment form and gather information right at the outset. Making this part of the standard enrolment process has improved our data immensely.
Next, we needed to check if we had captured everyone. The national data sets are helpful for this. We know where the bulk of our AFF pupils were, as they attend the schools closest to our base. However, we knew from our data collection that we were missing several children of veterans and reservists. Using the national data from the MOD allowed us to check the rough number of veterans in the Highlands area and an estimate of the number of children in those families. It is not an exact science, but we could see that we were much lower than we might anticipate. This led to meetings and sharing information to head teachers, highlighting the benefits to families identifying as veterans or reservists and highlighting the need for schools to capture this data on SEEMIS. At the next data collection point, our numbers had increased. We were then able to specifically offer support and training to those schools where clusters of families had been identified.
However, we are not there yet. We know that we have not identified all the children in our schools who live in AFF, and we may never do so for a whole variety of reasons. We will still track the data to ensure that our support can be specific, targeted and so families can receive the information that may be of help and benefit to them, whether currently serving, veterans, in full time service or reservists.
Overall, it is all about the data, and then how you use it.
Sarah Rodgers, RCET’s Policy & Research Officer provides her opinion on the importance of collecting, analysing and most importantly, acting upon data on Armed Forces children and young people:
At RCET, we are always delighted to see education authorities and schools recognising the importance of collecting, analysing and most importantly, acting upon data on Armed Forces children and young people to support them in reaching their full potential.
At present there is a striking lack of accurate data on Armed Forces children and young people in Scotland. There are no nationally published statistics on Armed Forces children and young people. This lack of data means we do not know how many children and young there are living in Armed Forces families in Scotland, their geographical locations, or how they fare in terms of their educational outcomes and their wider health and wellbeing.
Accurate data is the cornerstone of a robust evidence base on which to inform development and delivery of policy and practice. The lack of reliable data is therefore an issue of real frustration and concern and presents considerable challenges for those working to support Armed Forces children and young people and their families. It makes it extremely difficult to analyse the needs of Armed Forces children and young people and robustly consider whether current policies and practice are effectively meeting those needs. This serves to hinder our ability to understand the issues affecting Armed Forces children and young people and to effectively support them to reach their full potential.
The efforts of individual education authorities and schools to address this lack of data are to be commended. Looking ahead, we would like to see action at a national level on this issue. We firmly believe there should be collection and publication of national data on Armed Forces children and young people in Scotland including numbers, geographical location and educational, and health and wellbeing outcomes. Such a step is vital to supporting all children and young people in Armed Forces families to reach their full potential.