Children in care need a better deal

Before The TES launched the Time to Care campaign in January, little was heard from politicians or in the media about the shocking underachievement of children looked after by local authorities. Nine months later, the problem has risen to the top of the political agenda, with key new Labour figures, from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor downwards, demanding action.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, used his speech to the Labour party's conference to admit: "No one suffers greater disadvantage in our education system than children in care." His promises of a pound;2,000-a-year grant to help more looked-after children go to university and to put pound;100 a year into trust funds will help young people who must fend for themselves when they leave care at 16. But the promises will not tackle the main problem: that most young people in care are being failed by the school system and their local authority "corporate" parents.

Only one in 17 children in care gains five good GCSEs, let alone the A-level grades needed to enter higher education. As Julian Le Grand, a leading architect of Tony Blair's "third way", writes in today's paper, the Government's obsession with targets and tests is damaging their education (see Platform, page 19).

Children in care are not the only ones who lose out. A survey published this week shows that three-quarters of teachers believe the curriculum and testing regime harms pupils with special needs (see page 11).

Professor Le Grand suggests putting more money into the budgets of schools which teach children in care to help provide the one-to-one tuition, transport and other support that is a vital part of the Time to Care manifesto. It is a sensible suggestion which should be adopted by ministers when they publish their greenwhite papers later this term.

The fundamental problem is that the Government's standards agenda and its targets are focused on the many in the middle, and not the few at the bottom of the heap. Until that changes, we will continue to let down the most vulnerable children in our society.

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