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Boost for children in care

pound;305 million package in white paper which follows TES campaign.

SOME OF Britain's biggest firms this week backed a government drive to transform the education and employment prospects of children in care.

Firms including HSBC, BT, Deutche Bank, BSkyB and Tesco are among those backing the Care Matters white paper, launched yesterday at London's Canary Wharf.

HSBC's Global Education Trust is to offer pound;1 million towards providing private tuition for young people in care. It will also guarantee places on its training programme for high flyers and pilot a scheme in which others will be given a chance to combine working for the bank while attending college part-time.

BT intends to give places on its apprenticeship scheme to care-leavers.

Details of support from other companies are yet to be finalised. The white paper follows The TES's Time to Care campaign, which outlined a range of proposals to improve the education of looked-after children, more than half of whom leave school with no GCSEs. Many of The TES's proposals have been taken up by the white paper.

The Government plans to provide a pound;500 bonus for each child's social worker to spend on books and after-school places as well as a pound;2,000 university bursary.

Beverley Hughes, children and families minister, said there would be a legal obligation on local authorities not to move children in care during the two years preceding GCSEs; at present, children in care are five times more likely to do so than other children, she said. Children will be given a "virtual headteacher", who will oversee the education of all those in care within a local authority, working with their conventional school heads.

The Government said the package will be worth pound;305 million over four years.

Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, said: "Improving the life chances of children in care must be a priority and I welcome the commitment made today by big business to play their part."

Ms Hughes said support had also come from local authorities and schools.

She said: "There's an awful amount of goodwill towards this campaign because everyone realises that despite some progress in the last few years, we are not yet making enough of a difference to these kids."

The proportion of looked-after children gaining five or more good GCSE passes has risen from 7 per cent to 12 per cent since 2000 but is far short of the 59 per cent average for all pupils.

"It is fantastic that The TES has made this one of its campaigns because clearly we need all schools to make this one of their priorities," Ms Hughes said.

Ministers have abandoned plans to fine local authorities if looked-after children skip school, despite worries about a "culture of non-attendance"

at many children's homes. Ms Hughes said the fines would have presented legal problems, because they would have involved local authorities taking themselves to court.

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