'An absolute scandal': campaigners say care-home schools are second-best

12th June 2009 at 01:00
Many looked-after children miss out by not receiving a mainstream education

Campaigners hoping to end the "scandal" of pupils in care being educated in children's homes rather than mainstream schools are due to meet officials to persuade them to change government policy.

The National Teaching and Advisory Service, which acts as a consultancy for all services working with looked-after children, says local authorities are increasingly sending young people to homes with teaching staff because this is easier than finding places at local schools.

The organisation says pressure from the Government for children in care not to miss more than 25 days of school is leading to more children's homes setting up their own schools in order to attract local authority contracts.

There are 1,865 children's homes in the UK, which care for around 6,000 children. Of these, 1,225 are privately owned and 212 are also registered as independent schools. No statistics are kept about the number of pupils at these "schools".

Statutory guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families says social workers must secure "a full-time place in a local mainstream school unless the circumstances of the child - such as SEN - make such provision unsuitable".

The advisory service, which will meet civil servants in the next few weeks, says children whose education is solely being taught in homes do not experience the same social development as their mainstream counterparts. But others argue that this is the best choice for pupils with complex needs.

Tim Walker, the service's chief executive, said demand from local authorities, coupled with Whitehall finding it difficult to refuse new contracts, meant it was hard to stop the schools existing.

"If children are being educated in a residential school, they will not get a normal educational experience and they will not get a normal social experience," he said.

"If they respond negatively, they will be seen as 'difficult' and needing that provision even more. It's an absolute scandal.

"Nobody is prepared to comment on the moral dimension of educating children in this way."

But Jonathan Stanley, manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, which is contracted by the Government to produce resources for residential care workers, said people should change their perceptions of children's homes. Many are now examples of excellence, he argued.

"Residential care has changed immeasurably. It's so diverse. There isn't just one type," he said.

"In 2003, 58 per cent met Ofsted outcomes, but last year it had risen to 98 per cent, and much of this drive for improvement has come from the sector itself.

"It's important to remember most children in residential homes have a range of conditions and disabilities, which is why local authorities have problems finding places for them in mainstream schools."

But Mr Stanley admitted that residential care workers often have difficulty judging whether children are ready for school, which might lead to them being kept away unnecessarily.

This problem could be solved by using his school readiness assessment, he said. Many local authorities already use the resource.

A DCSF spokeswoman said local authorities "should do what any good parent would" to promote the educational achievements of children in their care.

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