One education minister after another has tried to improve the prospects for looked-after children. Their exam results remain stubbornly low, however, and their likelihood of finding a job disproportionately poor. The latest statistics on the educational attainment of children in the care of their local authority are depressing - last year, only 34 per cent of care leavers left school with Foundation level Standard grades in English and maths.
Yet it need not be so, as the experience of Johnstone High in Renfrewshire shows (page 7). This secondary school won the CBI Schools for All prize in the Scottish Education Awards for its pastoral care of looked-after pupils. What staff have been doing for the last 10 years is not rocket science. It comes down to common sense. All looked-after pupils are placed in the same house group under the same guidance teacher. It makes the youngsters feel more like a family unit but, crucially, it means that children's unit staff and liaison workers have a "one-stop shop" - a single teacher who knows and understands the care system and knows the children's backgrounds.
At Johnstone High, Jeanette Potter has been the teacher looking out for looked-after pupils. She is ambitious for them and wants them to achieve as much as any other child. Quite rightly, she feels the Government target of a Foundation level Standard grade pass in English and maths for looked- after children is "insulting". Aspirations must be higher.
Innovative work is being done in some councils. Inverclyde is pioneering a scheme in which senior council officials act as behind-the-scenes champions of looked-after children. The official and his or her designated child do not meet, but the child's "champion" performs the role of pushy parent. The common denominator in both schemes? Someone being there who really cares.