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The scandal of care can be put right

The gap between the educational achievement of children in public care and children who are not is wider in the United Kingdom than it is anywhere in the world. Not enough local authorities expect the best of them, not enough foster families do and neither do enough teachers. Could this be because, crucially, the Government is setting the targets expected of children in care too low?

Today we report in our ongoing Time to Care campaign that more than half of looked-after children are entered for only one GCSE.

That's the government target. The minimum of five grade Cs expected of other children doesn't apply. Looked-after children are different.

The trouble is, if you set a target it easily becomes the maximum that some aim for. Little wonder that NCH and Barnado's want it scrapped.

One GCSE isn't much of a qualification - it puts you at the bottom of the social heap, where you are likely to repeat the same cycle of social disadvantage you have been born into.

As Maria Eagle, the junior minister for children, asked the all-party parliamentary group on children in care: "What does this say about our aspirations?"

Indeed. Elsewhere in The TES today we report on Ivor Frank, a barrister told at the age of 14 by a comprehensive school teacher that he wasn't clever enough to take exams (page 18). His foster father, a lecturer, agreed.

Many children in care do have acute problems which will restrict their educational attainments. Plenty don't. We need better paid and better trained foster carers, as Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, argues cogently today in Platform (page 21).

But if every teacher decided tomorrow to look beyond the stereotyping of the children in their class who go to foster or children's homes at the end of the day, a scandalous failure of public service just might begin to be put right.

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