Damian Hinds has called for more attention to be paid to a group of 1.6 million vulnerable children who suffer “quite an astonishing” GCSE gap with their peers.
The education secretary today pledged to change the school admissions code so that designated "children in need", a group that includes some fleeing domestic abuse, can access a new school place more quickly.
In a speech to the Reform thinktank, Mr Hinds said that one in 10 children has required the help of a social worker at some time during their schooling – and, despite these children making up a “huge proportion” of pupils, they are not well understood.
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He said: “It is, I’m afraid, a cohort of children who in the general public discourse are just not as well understood as children in care or, indeed, children overall.
Support for vulnerable children
“But whereas we understand children in care, we understand that those children have very poor outcomes, very poor attainment in school compared to other children, actually the truth is that this group, children in need, have outcomes that are almost as bad.
“I mean very, very nearly as bad, but there are five times as many of them.”
He said pupils who have needed contact with a social worker at any time since Year 5 on average get 20 grades lower across eight GCSEs.
He added: “It’s quite an astonishing gap. It’s widely understood that for children in care there is a wide gap, but this doesn’t get talked about, so far, nearly as much.”
Mr Hinds stressed the importance of children in need being in school to reduce the likelihood of them "falling prey to criminal or sexual exploitation".
A Department for Education review found that they are three times more likely to be persistently absent from school, and four times more likely to be permanently excluded.
The education secretary said: "We need to improve the visibility of this group, both in schools and in the system as a whole. We need to make sure in every case that information is passed on to a social worker when a child moves school.”
A consultation will be launched in due course to determine what changes need to be made to the admissions code so children in need can secure a school place more quickly.
Russell Hobby, chief executive of teacher recruitment charity Teach First, said: "It's tragic that for too long many disadvantaged young people have not just been left behind, they've been kept behind – unable to break an enduring cycle of disadvantage.
"To tackle this head-on we must see more investment for schools and teachers in the upcoming spending review, alongside a continued commitment to the pupil premium."