Councils must do more

Local authorities are still failing children in care, says acting the chief inspector. reports

The great and the good of education began 2006 by focusing on the new children's services agenda this week, and heard that local authorities were failing to meet all its demands.

Making his first speech as acting chief inspector at the North of England Education conference, Maurice Smith, revealed that annual performance assessments of local authorities showed they needed to do more for children in their care.

The TES is to campaign for a better deal for children in care in 2006.

Mr Smith said truancy among such pupils had shown no sign of improvement in 2005 and they had not achieved well enough academically. The assessments also showed that only half of children looked after by foster parents for four years or more had stayed with the same carer for more than two years.

Mr Smith was expected to tell the conference in Gateshead that authorities were not all performing well on the five outcomes for children set out in the Government's Every Child Matters programme.

More than a third of councils failed to provide more than the minimum on the "achieving economic well-being" measure. But they were doing consistently well on the "making a positive contribution" outcome and were even stronger on "being healthy" with more than 80 per cent judged to be delivering above the minimum requirements.

Around 80 per cent of children in care received regular dental and health checks. Only around 3 per cent of councils failed to review children on their child protection register in the time expected, down from more than 11 per cent the previous year. The number of children remaining on the register for two or more years had been reduced for the sixth year running and now stood at 6 per cent.

David Behan, chief inspector at the Commission for Social Care Inspection, said that local authorities needed to take more time planning how to deal with children in need. He said: "In the absence of a strategic approach, councils frequently have to take a reactive approach to finding placements which can result in children being placed far from home and often in very expensive placements."

Al Aynsley-Green, the children's commissioner, was due to use his opening speech as conference chair to stress the need to break down the silos and bunkers that existed between education, health and social care to ensure children got a good deal.

This morning Ruth Kelly returns to the scene of her first-ever speech as Education Secretary. A nervous debut at last year's conference in Manchester received a generous response, even though she set out the controversial principles of parent power and allowing popular schools to expand.

But in the intervening 12 months she has rejected major sections of the Tomlinson report on 14-19 education and now faces growing opposition to the schools white paper. She may get a tougher reception.

Michael Fullan from Toronto university, who helped the Government to evaluate its literacy and numeracy strategies, was expected to explain how he had successfully adapted them to work in Ontario, Canada, where he is a special adviser to the provincial government.

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