Headteachers who have been locked in a stand-off with Department for Education officials after arguing that their areas are too unsafe for children in care have been confronted with a dossier of evidence challenging their claims.
The move follows a refusal by Coastal Academies Trust, in Kent, to accept any more looked-after children who have been placed in the district of Thanet by other local authorities.
Several headteachers from the trust – along with local MPs – have argued that these children would be easy prey for sexual groomers and gangs and should be moved to a less deprived part of the country instead.
Now an analysis by the Independent Children's Homes Association (ICHA), shared with Tes, attempts to disprove these statements.
The analysis examines official crime statistics to assess the risk to pupils allegedly posed by gangs in different areas – particularly "county lines" gangs, which the headteachers say pose a real threat.
It concludes that cross-county gangs are a “nationwide” problem, but are “not specific to any county”, including Kent.
It also finds that around 37 per cent of all looked-after children placed in Kent have been sent there by other local authorities. This means that "out-of-area placements" in Kent account for a smaller proportion of all placements of looked-after children than in 96 out of 152 authorities.
The ICHA's report adds that the majority of placements in Thanet are made by Kent County Council itself, stating: “This would suggest that Thanet is recognised by [the council] as a good place for looked-after children to live.” The council confirmed that these figures are accurate but did not comment further.
Children in care 'not at greater risk'
The ICHA report also considers claims made by Thanet headteachers in national media that their area could become “the next Rochdale or Rotherham”, referring to cases of sexual grooming.
This claim was last month dismissed as "scaremongering" by children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics South East television show.
And the ICHA analysis says that there are fewer known sex offenders in Kent than in 25 out of 42 police force areas across the country.
The analysis concludes: "It is accepted that there are areas of Kent which experience higher levels of crime or deprivation, as well as other areas which are lower deprivation. However, this is the same for every county in England."
It adds: "It should also be noted that Kent offers a range of qualities and resources for looked-after children which other counties cannot match. It is often forgotten that children are placed according to their need and placed in homes which meet these needs effectively."
In response, the multi-academy trust's executive headteacher, Paul Luxmoore, said: "If Kent County Council does still send children to Thanet, it is because of the shortage of foster placements and residential homes elsewhere – the same problem that faces other local authorities – not because they think Thanet is a great place for looked-after children."
He added: "Thanet secondary Heads have never claimed that Kent is deprived – just Thanet. I strongly suggest that the residential homes association focus on Thanet alone if they are to refute what we are saying about the safety of looked-after children."
Mr Luxmoore, along with virtual school heads – who oversee the education of looked-after children – have been invited to a meeting with Mr Zahawi early next month to discuss their concerns.
This is an edited article from the 10 August edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here