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Failed by the system

Three-quarters of children in care leave school with no qualifications. In an era when attestation of achievement is so important that amounts to a national scandal. Until this week's report (page four) and the Education Minister's demand for action, no one had paid much attention.

It has been the old story - out of sight, out of mind. Children in care are among the most vulnerable of groups. That is why they are being "looked after" (to use the current phrase, which in practice says more about catering for physical needs than for education and support). But whereas some vulnerable children, for example, those with special needs, make clear demands on the system, those in care often do not. Yet they are more likely to be excluded and to offend. Their world may have fallen apart and no one has sought to put it together again in any but th most rudimentary sense.

That does not imply neglect by either carers or teachers. It is when two parts of the system - education and social work - are expected to come together that the problems arise. At national level, fortunately, the two services co-operated in the report that has prompted ministerial intervention. Council leaders and their chief executives will now have to produce plans that ensure similar but continuous co-operation between services at local level.

One problem with raising standards in deprived areas - the kernel of social inclusion policy - is that the relatively advantaged respond best to increased staffing and facilities. The "tail" of those who still struggle then becomes thinner but longer. The dismal qualifications record of cared-for children shows that so far they remain among the victims.

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