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Children in care benefit from pound;5m high-technology input

Almost half of the pound;10million allocated to local authorities in 2001 to improve resources for looked-after children went on information and communications technology.

Traditional learning methods were not neglected, with the funding also being used to expand libraries, purchase books and reference materials as well as creating improved homework and study facilities for children in care.

Cathy Jamieson, the Education Minister, praised the authorities for using the money "wisely". She said: "This funding has made a significant difference to the education experience of many of our looked-after children, as well as increasing their understanding and awareness of future career choices."

It is the first time ministers felt moved to applaud the record of local authorities in this area following a scathing report, Learning with Care, by the education and social work inspectorates in 2001.

The inspectors' findings led to an unprecedented intervention by Jack McConnell, the then Education Minister, who wrote to all 32 council leaders demanding they put in place action plans. Their responses showed wide variations in authorities' performance, despite the fact that, for example, care plans for looked-after children that included their educational needs had been a legal obligation on councils since 1997.

The Executive then announced the pound;10m package, equivalent to pound;500 for every child in care in a family setting and pound;2,500 for every child in a residential home. This aimed to kick-start improvements to meet new targets which would ensure that all 11,000 looked-after children receive a full-time education, have a care plan that add-resses their educational needs and have a designated teacher to "champion their interests".

The ICT equipment included laptops, printers, filtered internet access, and online learning opportunities. The youngsters were also given software such as SuccessMaker, an integrated learning system providing individual support in maths, reading, writing and spelling.

As well as targeting children, funding was used to set up ICT systems to improve inter-departmental communication and allow information on educational attainment to be shared. Several authorities in the west of Scotland made use of the Strathclyde Educational Establishment Management Information Systems (SEEMIS) to monitor and track pupil progress.

A report from the Executive on how the pound;10m was spent commends the local authorities for building on existing initiatives and developing a supportive infrastructure. "The funding has enabled social work, teaching staff and carers to engage with young people in a range of ways, from helping with the formal curriculum to providing emotional supports which enable young people to access education.

"Looked-after children are experiencing tangible evidence that they are valued and supported."

The Executive has now pledged further support over the next three years to improve the lot of children during their time in care and after they leave, including their attainment. A sum of pound;2.5m will be allocated this year, followed by pound;9m in 2004-05 and pound;10.5m in 2005-06.

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