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Children in care set up to fail

The educational plight of children in care in Wales is a national scandal.

Five out of eight looked-after children leave care without a single GCSE or GNVQ, according to figures from the Local Government Data Unit. That amounts to 251 of the 397 care-leavers instead of the 100 targeted in the policy agreements between the Welsh Assembly and local authorities.

Just one in 25 achieves GCSE grades A-C or equivalent. This raises two questions: why are the targets so low, and why have they been missed by a mile? The national target, set by the Assembly in 2001, to halve the number of care-leavers with no qualifications by 2002 and reduce it by three-quarters by 2003, is nowhere in sight. It was abandoned in favour of targets negotiated with each local authority. But our report (page 2) reveals that this tack has failed spectacularly, with four councils (three of them in the most deprived areas) not even agreeing targets for looked-after children with the Welsh Assembly.

But it is wrong to blame all local authorities. Mike Lewis of Children in Wales says that in the worst-performing authority no child left care with a qualification, while in the best 80 per cent earned a GCSE or GNVQ. The latter has shown what can be done by investing in extra tuition and raising expectations for these children.

The problem with the current system - which ends in 2008 when Children First funding will no longer be ring-fenced - is that there are no incentives for authorities who reach their targets, and no mechanism to force under-achieving ones to improve the situation. The Assembly must ensure this is put right. But more than that, it must also ask why it has set its sights so low. Children in care say it is the low aspirations of the people who look after them that hold them back.

They joke they are the "not-looked-after children". Under the current system they are being set up to fail.

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