Others said thousands did not achieve a single GCSE. Ministers spoke of a scandal. They promised extra help.
Since then, thousands more children have passed through school, and councils now know what they achieve. But new figures show that the scandal remains. Just one in 16 achieves five or more good GCSEs in England - and only one in 25 in Wales. Fewer than 100 each year go to university.
Teachers deal with these children every day. They are confronted by the consequences of their difficult backgrounds and of a system which means that most change foster families three times a year.
When one thrives, it is often a teacher like John Ward, Jonny's English teacher, who makes the difference.
But for most people, these are invisible children who rise briefly up the political agenda and disappear again.
Our campaign aims to remind others of their plight. We want to start a debate about how they can be helped. Should they go to boarding schools as Sir Cyril Taylor suggests in today's TES? What can we learn from children who do make it?
Join us in this important debate in the paper and on our website.