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Dickens inspires patrons for pupils

Senior council officers will follow, Magwitch-like, the education of teenagers in care. Joseph Lee reports

Children in care in a north London borough are being "adopted" by Victorian-style patrons who will champion their education.

Senior officers at Barnet council are each overseeing one of 43 Year 11 pupils, monitoring their progress behind the scenes and using their influence to divert extra resources to them if necessary.

It could mean the Tory-run council pays for extra tuition for the GCSE pupils or ensures they get preferential access to the best schools.

Paul Fallon, director of children's services, said: "I ask the officers to have the same expectations as if they were their own children.

"If they are not satisfied with the service they are getting, then they should use whatever muscle or clout they have to get it.

"And it should stiffen all their resolves if they know the chief executive is going to ask questions.

"The analogy I use is with Great Expectations and Magwitch," said Mr Fallon. "We are all like the convict who gets deported to Australia, but who shows an interest in Pip from a distance and sometimes sends cash, although the child doesn't even know he exists.

"Young people repeatedly say that although people are very, very kind and sympathetic to them in care, they didn't have high expectations and always made excuses for them.

"Children will live down to your expectations," he said.

The council is some way off a Government target to ensure 90 per cent of children in care leave school with at least one GCSE, and 24 per cent at least five top-grade exams.

Mr Fallon said: "I know that doesn't seem good compared to the general population of children, but it gives you an idea of just how far back these children are starting.

"The whole point is we are the corporate parent, and if parents don't favour their own children, who does? I have no problem with that at all."

George McNamara, policy officer for the children's charity NCH, said just 8 per cent of teenagers in care leave with five GCSEs, compared to more than half of the general population.

He said: "A 15-year-old might have had four different placements already and been to three different schools. That's particularly damaging.

"You can't just wait until you get to GCSEs.

"It seems some schools, even where there are places, deny them to kids in care. With the pressure to meet targets, having someone on the roll who's been through the care system is seen as a disadvantage.

"The idea of having a champion to ensure they get the opportunities other children take for granted could have a huge impact.

"But it needs to start from when they are very young."

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