Teachers to act as advocates for looked-after children as ministers act to help this neglected group. Clare Dean reports
EVERY child in care will get a personal education plan under government attempts to improve their schooling.
Designated teachers will be appointed to act as their advocates while local authority education and social services departments have been told by ministers to work more closely together.
Draft guidance on the education of children looked after by councils has now been drawn up by the departments for education and health.
Launched by Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett yesterday, it highlights education as the passport to a better future but says schooling for children in care had "been characterised by drift and delay".
Ministers said that for too long the education of looked-after children has suffered from fragmentation and unacceptable levels of failure.
While no national statistics have been collected, studies of youngsters leaving care reveal massive levels of underachievement - 75 per cent finish school at 16 with no qualifications and only between 12 and 19 per cent go on to further education compared with 68 per cent nationally.
Children in care are also 10 times more likely to be excluded from school.
Yet school, for many of the 53,700 children looked after by councils, is a lifeline - the one source of continuity and stability, potentially the place to be "like everyone else".
Many councils acting as "corporate parents" for children in care have no idea whether they have passed exams or even taken them.
A survey by The TES earlier this year showed that 39 per cent of councils in England had no information about what their children in care achieved at 16, while two-thirds did not know how their looked-after children did in national tests.
Research has identified low aspirations for, and expectations of, looked-after children's achievement and behaviour.
But the Government said: "Their care experiences do not automatically mean that they will have emotional and behavioural difficulties that will prevent them from learning and achieving.
"High achievers, whether in public care or not, can also experience difficult emotional times. Many children have achieved educational success while suffering abuse, prior to being looked after."
The Government now wants to improve the educational attainment of these children, by increasing the proportion leaving school with a GCSE or general national vocational qualification to at least 50 per cent by 2001; and to 75 per cent by 2003.
It is not uncommon for them to experience gaps in their education of between six months and a year as well as bullying, name-calling and intrusive questioning about their home life. Blunkett said: "This guidance is a vital tool to break the cycle of underachievement and blighted life chances."