Looked-after children to get a better deal

TEACHERS AND other professionals are to be given more training to improve their skills in dealing with looked-after children, Hugh Henry, the Education Minister, has announced.

In response to recommendations to a working group established to examine the education of children in care, the Scottish Cabinet is also to receive regular reports on how looked-after children perform at school.

A suite of measures are to be implemented in an attempt to improve the educational outcomes of looked-after children, whose attainment is significantly poorer than other children and who tend to make up a disproportionate section of the Neet group (not in education, employment or training).

They include:

* reminding councils of their role and responsibility as corporate parents;

* providing key workers with guidance on their role in suppporting young people;

* ensuring that councils continue to provide young people with support beyond their 18th birthday, including financial support for those going on to further and higher education;

* the secondment of Anna Fowlie, team leader for children and young people at Cosla, to the Scottish Executive as a national "champion" to work with councils to ensure they are providing the best possible education for children in care.

The working group's report, "We Can and Must Do Better", proposes that Scottish councils consider emulating an initiative developed by Barnet Borough Council where an education champion (senior council officer) is appointed to look after the interests of a looked-after child. They do not meet, but the official (he or she could work in any department, from roads to finance) monitors from a distance the child's progress and tries to ensure that any barriers to their progress are removed.

The report identified the need to focus on looked-after children's self-worth and self-esteem, and said that the exclusion and transition stages were critical crossroads in their lives.

"Supporting the educational attainment of children and young people is a critical component of foster and residential child care, and we enthusiastically welcome this report," said Jennifer Davidson, director of the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care (Sircc).

"This report shows it is not only social work staff who are responsible for looked-after children, but that schools have a vital role to play," added Dr Graham Connelly, senior lecturer in education at the University of Strathclyde.

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