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Care-leavers' higher dream

Iain Hepburn on a council's pleas for money to help more looked-after children go on to do a degree

Care-leavers must be given more financial help to stay in education, says a leading Labour council.

Newham, in east London, has called on ministers to give more support to those wanting to go on to further or higher education. It wants this to be a key pledge in the Government's green paper on the education of children in care, expected in September.

Newham's demand for extra help for care-leavers echoes The TES's Time to Care manifesto, launched in May, which calls on the Government to improve the education of looked-after children.

The manifesto says young people should continue to be supported by foster carers until they are 21. It also says they need additional help at school to help them get into university or college.

The University and Colleges Admissions Service has said from 2008 it will ask applicants if they were in care so that universities can provide extra support. Only 5 per cent of care-leavers ever get to university compared with 44 per cent of young people nationally.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, pledged that the green paper would tackle the "scandalous" underachievement of children in care. Official figures show more than half leave school without a single GCSE and just 6 per cent gain five or more top grades.

Mr Johnson said: "There are only 60,000 looked-after children yet the way they have been treated by successive governments over many years is scandalous.

"A new measure, in the education and inspections Bill, will prevent a looked-after child being dumped in a school with the most vacancies, because these are often the failing schools. Every school will have an obligation to take a looked-after child, even if it is full. That is a small measure but it is a step along the right route."

Newham council wrote to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, last summer asking him to give care-leavers a lump sum grant at the age of 18 equal to the child benefit they would have received had they not been in public care.

Although the Treasury rejected the proposal, the Government is thought to be considering other ways to help care-leavers who wish to stay in education. Newham has a scheme for its own looked-after children using child trust funds.

The proposal to use child benefit to fund further education was one recommendations from a commission Newham set up. It also called for mandatory education training for foster carers and for governors to play a greater role in ensuring schools meet the needs of children in care.

The commission was praised by Althea Efunshile, director of the safeguarding children group at the Department for Education and Skills, who is involved in writing the green paper.


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