Better deal for children in care

Every looked-after child to have a personal education plan, say ministers. Clare Dean and Jon Slater report.

MINISTERS will next week take another step in the drive to tackle the underachievement of children in care.

New guidance will be issued to local authorities that will put a 20-schooldays limit on finding a school place for those in public care. The guidance will also say every child in care should have a personal education plan.

The move follows a series of stories in The TES that highlighted the educational underachievement of looked-after children, and comes as inspectors have begun to identify alarming numbers of homeless pupils.

A TES survey last March found that nearly half of all local authorities did not know how the children they look after fared at school.

It also showed that three-quarters of children in care left school without a single GCSE and that just 3 per cent gained five A to C grade GCSEs.

Since then, the Government has introduced the Care Standards Bill, which gives the schools inspectorate responsibility for inspecting children's homes, and the Care Leavers Bill, which aims to smooth the transition of young people from care to adult life.

Statistics show that children in care are six to eight times more likely to have special needs.

The Department of Health also estimates that one in five children experiences a period of homelessness within two years of leaving care homes.

And up to 40 per cent of young people using homeless charity Centrepoint's services in London have spent time in care.

Now the Office for Stndards in Education has revealed that almost 700 pupils in schools in London borough of Westminster are classified as homeless.

There are a further 2,000 who are refugees and asylum-seekers and at least 10 per cent of the pupil roll in the borough - some 1,600 children - changes annually.

Simon Milton, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said: "It is very difficult and has a real impact on the classroom with people coming and going, as well as on exam results.

"It is a challenging environment and schools have to be flexible. A lot of work goes on outside the classroom with study support programmes."

In the past four years, the number of 16- and 17-year-olds declared homeless has risen by 12 per cent and they now make up 44 per cent of all homeless in London, according to Centrepoint.

The charity houses some 600 young people in London every night. A spokeswoman said: "A lot of young people are very keen to keep up with their education despite having no home.

"I met one young woman who slept rough for two weeks and managed to go to sixth-form college all of that time. She is now doing a degree and has her own flat.

"Another night, in one of our emergency shelters, I spent the whole evening helping a 16-year-old with her English homework."

The charity operates a "foyer" scheme which offers temporary accommodation to 200 young people who are seeking work, education or training.

Victor Abedowale, chief executive of Centrepoint, said: "The projects aim to prepare the young people for life beyond hostels and supported housing."

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