A grim future often awaits those who leave children's homes. Jon Slater reports on moves to give them a better chance in life by raising their academic attainment.
THE Government is looking at ways of improving schooling for children in care, amid mounting evidence that poor education is at the root of their problems in later life.
Official figures show that more than half of those in care leave school with no qualifications, compared to just 6 per cent of all young people. Fewer than one in 20 get five good (A*-C) GCSEs compared to nearly half of all children. Those in care are also 10 times more likely to be excluded from school than their peers.
Without qualifications, children leaving care are more likely to turn to crime or end up living on the streets. A quarter of the prison population and up to a third of rough sleepers have been in care. Local authorities act as corporate parents to more than 42,000 children, 33,000 of whom are of school age.
The scale of educational neglect of looked-after children was revealed by a TES survey two years ago. At that time, two-thirds of councils had no idea what scores those in their care had achieved in national tests. Two-fifths did not even know whether they had achieved any GCSE passes.
The Government's "Quality Protects" initiative now requires all councils to collect information on the educational attainment of looked-after children and to write a personal education plan for each child. But the inquiry by the Government's Social Exclusion Unit shows that ministers believe more must be done.
The unit is asking vital questions such as why councils have problems finding school places for children in care and whether there is a need to change the training and support teachers are given to help them. It is also running in-depth projects in six authorities in an effort to identify good practice. It will publish its final report next year.
"Doing badly at school has a major impact on these children's chances later in life and we must do more to see that they get the same educational opportunities that we would expect for our own children," said Jacqui Smith, health minister.
Children's charities have called for a transformation in attitudes to children in care. Roger Singleton, chief executive of Barnardo's, said:
"The disadvantages these young people face are not helped by low expectations perpetuated in government targets. We would like to see targets which were at least the same as the current achievements of comparable groups of other children."
Alison Williams, of the National Children's Bureau's Children's Residential Care Unit, said: "Too many children in care are being placed in failing schools where their difficulties are reinforced. And too many wait too long for an education place, particularly unaccompanied asylum-seeking children."
The consultation document is at www.cabinet-office.gov.ukseu