Just like our lives
Ongoing project

Just Like Our Lives

Supporting the educational experiences of children and young people who are looked after

Project summary

The Challenge

Children looked after face significant educational disadvantage but the policies that aim to improve this often marginalise their views and voices.

The Approach

We involved young people looked after as partners in the project, using our innovative Emancipatory Participatory Action Research approach.

The Outcome

The educational experiences of children and young people looked after are being enhanced with direct changes to policy and practice being made.

Lead academics

Funded by

Project partners

The Challenge

Children and young people in the ‘looked after’ system face significant educational disadvantage in comparison with their non-looked after peers. Children looked after face higher rates of exclusions from school, lower levels of achievements in standardised tests and poorer progression rates onto further and higher education.

Although frequently positioned at the centre of a vast range of social and educational policies and interventions – the views, experiences and voices of looked after young people are often marginalised within these initiatives.

A collaborative project – including staff from our School of Education, young people from a Children in Care Council and the Vulnerable Children Education Team from the East Riding of Yorkshire Council – this research set out to foreground the voices of young people in shaping policy development, implementation and practice.

Still from Just Like Our Lives video
'The views, experiences and voices of looked after young people are often marginalised'

‘We are the same as everyone else…’

Many young people in the looked after system do not want to be seen as different to their non-looked after peers.

The Approach

The research utilises our innovative research approach Emancipatory Participatory Action Research (EmPAR) that enables the voices of disadvantaged children, young people and community groups to be heard in order to create meaningful change.

The young people involved in the project were ‘active’ key partners rather than passive recipients. They were valued as the experts in relation to their lived experience which could then be acted on by practitioners and policy-makers to change cultures and practices thereby enhancing young people’s educational experiences.

Building and maintaining positive relationships is at the heart of the EmPAR approach. This recognises that meaningful social change usually occurs incrementally, through an iterative process of research and collective action, so that research and impact are intimately connected.

Still from Just Like Our Lives video
Building and maintaining positive relationships

Within this project, the young participants made key decisions about how research findings could be used and the direction the project should take. After discussing key findings for example, they decided they wanted to use those findings to create a film to be used by teachers/trainee teachers to raise awareness of the issues they faced. This decision shaped the development of the project.

Finally, EmPAR as employed in this project involves the use of creative and innovative engagement methods and tools both as vehicles for research and for communicating with a wide range of audiences to enhance social change.

The Impact

The project is enhancing the educational experiences of children and young people looked after. The initial research phase led directly to changes to policy and practices in the local authority virtual school that supports looked after young people.

After they identified that they wanted to make a film documenting their experiences of being looked after within education, the young people were supported to co-produce a powerful film working alongside award-winning filmmaker My Pockets.

Just Like Our Lives

The film has been widely used in training and public outreach across a range of educational settings and social/children’s services.

The film was shortlisted for a range of prestigious national and international film festivals and awards in 2020 in recognition of the important message it conveys as well as its creativity. The film was shortlisted for:

  • World Health Organization’s Health for All Film Festival (from 1265 entries from 119 countries)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Research in Film Awards
  • Positively Different Short Film Festival
  • Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival
  • Scout Film Festival
  • Lift-Off Global Network First-time Filmmaker Sessions (Winner)


Lisa Jones, Charlotte Dean, Ally Dunhill, Max A. Hope and Patricia A. Shaw (2020) ‘We are the same as everyone else just with a different and unique backstory’: Identity, belonging and ‘othering’ within education for young people who are ‘looked after’. Children and Society 34(6), pp. 492-506