17% of looked-after pupils leave with no qualifications

Call for tutoring for care-experienced young people amid warnings that the attainment gap will widen due to Covid

Emma Seith

Looked-after children: 17% of children in care in Scotland leave school with no qualifications, new figures show

Almost two-thirds of looked-after students who left school in 2018-19 failed to attain even one qualification at National 5 level – and 17 per cent left school with no qualifications at all, new Scottish government figures show.

Experts say the figures are almost certain to get worse as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

Now a charity that works with care-experienced young people is calling for the government to provide tutoring for looked-after pupils, mirroring a scheme being introduced in England.

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Background: The attainment gap for looked-after children

The English "Covid catch-up plan", jointly announced by Number 10 and the Department for Education in June, will include £350 million to pay for a tutoring scheme for the most disadvantaged pupils.

Coronavirus: Call for tutoring for looked-after pupils

Duncan Dunlop, chief executive of Who Cares? Scotland, said: “We believe that tutoring will create the necessary scaffolding to support care-experienced people back into education and stop the attainment gap from being too entrenched.” 

The new figures show that the attainment of looked-after children has been slowly rising.

However, of the looked-after children who left school in 2018-19, 65 per cent failed to achieve a qualification equivalent to National 5 or better, as compared with 15 per cent of all school leavers, and 17 per cent left with no qualifications, as compared with just 2 per cent of all leavers.

Looked-after children were also almost seven times more likely to be excluded. Attendance was significantly lower (87 per cent, as compared with 93 per cent), and 42 per cent of care-experienced pupils who left school in 2018-19 did so in S4 or earlier, against 12 per cent of school leavers more generally.

Barry Black, an education researcher at the University of Glasgow, described the figure of 65 per cent of care-experienced pupils leaving school without even one qualification at National 5 level as “a national embarrassment”.

“There is a growing consensus that targeted tutoring could go some way to addressing some of the ‘learning loss’ over the past several months," he said. "This is particularly important for those sitting qualifications in the coming academic year.”

Mr Black added: “There is a great opportunity here to implement a positive systemic change in the education of young people in care – in emerging from lockdown and beyond. I hope the Scottish government take it.”

Education secretary John Swinney said the attainment gap between looked-after pupils and their peers was “gradually narrowing” and the proportion of looked-after children leaving school with one or more pass at National 5 and Higher level was rising, as was the proportion going on to education, training or work.

However, he acknowledged that some “really significant gaps” remained, and added: “Through our £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund we are providing over £11.6 million funding this academic year for projects to help improve the education and life chances of care-experienced children and young people, while our work to improve the care system continues.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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