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On the map - Looked-after children - Attainment of pupils in care still at a premium

Five years ago, The TES started a campaign on behalf of looked-after children, or children "in care", as they were then known. At that time, the idea of a "corporate" parent taking the same interest as other parents in the education of the children in their care was a novel one, and only 14 per cent of these pupils gained the five A*-C grade GCSE benchmark. The last government accepted that looked-after pupils needed more support than those in family settings, and there has been an improvement in the proportion gaining five A*-Cs. However, as our chart reveals, the gap between these children and the pupil population as a whole remains huge.

Leaving aside the debate about whether five A*-Cs is a sensible measure if it does not include passes in English and maths, this standard is now achieved by three-quarters of all pupils, but only just over a quarter of looked-after children. Even so, this is more than double the 12 per cent that achieved the target in 2006.

Whether it is fair to require schools to reach the same standard with pupils from troubled backgrounds is an interesting issue in itself. But the Government risks ignoring the needs of this group by deciding to use free school meals as the criterion for the pupil premium, and hence access to additional funding.

Access to schools is an equally vital issue - especially for pupils shunted between placements, often in areas with struggling schools. Indeed, this group may lose out in the Government's drive to universal academy status, unless children's minister Tim Loughton can protect their interests.

After all, raising educational standards usually means less government spending is needed on employment benefits, health and justice. In 2006, the Government's social exclusion unit calculated that better schooling and care for these pupils would save #163;16 billion per year.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

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