Blueprint for a better life

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Looked-after children will get priority access to popular schools under new proposals. Adi Bloom reports

Popular schools, even if they are oversubscribed, will have to take on looked-after children under new government proposals in England.

Schools will also be expected to provide catch-up support for these children so they do not fall behind their classmates. The new recommendations would give them the right to remain in care until the age of 21, and provide their carers with a professional salary.

Care Matters, a consultative document announced in Parliament this week, fulfils several of the goals laid out in The TES Time to Care manifesto.

But there are fears there is no new money to pay for the proposals.

In Wales, the Assembly government is taking powers to regulate school admissions for looked-after children, and is looking at how other suggested approaches in the green paper might tie-in with Welsh initiatives.

It is currently consulting on ways of improving the health and education of looked-after children and strengthening placements.

A spokesperson added: "We recognise the urgency of improving services and transforming support for looked-after children."

The educational attainment of Welsh looked-after children is even worse than in England, with 63 per cent of last year's care-leavers failing to achieve a single qualification.

But they appear less likely to face multiple moves between care homes and foster parents, meaning changes in school. However, last year more than 15 per cent moved school at least once.

Care Matters proposes to help young people pursue further and higher education by offering a pound;2,000 bursary towards university costs, as well as an extra pound;100 for every year they are in care.

Support during HE was a key element of The TES six-point manifesto, launched in May this year. Twenty-eight per cent of the 60,000 children in the care system currently leave at the age of 16. The average age for all young people to leave the family home is 24.

Under the proposals, looked-after children would be offered free transport so they do not have to change school when they are moved to a new placement. A "virtual head", a teacher or social worker, would attend parents' evenings and track progress.

And social workers will be given pound;500 for every child in care to spend on music lessons, enrichment activities or catch-up classes.

But Tim Walker, chief executive of the National Teaching and Advisory Service, said: "Social workers haven't got the time to spend on those children who go to school but are quietly failing."

www.dfes.gov.ukconsultationsThe TES Time to Care campaign culminates in a one-day symposium in London on November 14. Tickets are free, email: timetocare@tes.co.uk

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