A welcome first step, Ms Kelly

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The news that looked-after children will be guaranteed a place in their first choice school - even if it is full - is a fantastic first step on the journey towards social justice for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable group in our society. It will be of real help to children who may move foster home - and school - many times, often mid-term when all the best schools have long since filled up and the only places going begging are in schools with problems of their own.

But getting into a good school is only the start. Unless we give priority to education in the lives of these children they will continue to fail on a grand scale and give their personal spin to the cycle of deprivation.

Without well-trained and educated foster parents and teachers who expect the most rather than the least, they have little hope. In parts of the country it is still acceptable for looked-after children to be placed with foster parents who are illiterate and plenty go to homes which lack understanding of the importance of education.

That has to change: this is about more than individual children being consigned to the scrap heap.

Today in our Time to Care campaign we report that raising the achievement of looked-after children to parallel those who have never been in care could save more than pound;16 billion a year in reduced crime, better health and improved employment prospects.

That represents half of England's total education budget and is a colossal waste. Some will dismiss Ruth Kelly's last-minute conversion to the needs of looked-after children as a cynical ploy to wrong-foot Labour rebels in the education Bill debate. But we welcome and applaud Ms Kelly's public backing for our campaign and her determination to help the most disadvantaged. It makes human and economic sense. We'd just like her to go further. Allocating a teacher to every child in care in much the same way as they are allocated social workers would be a start.

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