'Guarantee' for care children is full of holes

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Your front-page article, "Children in care thrown lifeline", (TES, March 17), reporting that the children will be guaranteed a place at their first choice of school sounds promising. But the guarantee as it appears in the education Bill does not leave children in care in a secure position.

You report that the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said: "Our Bill will give local authorities powers to direct the admission of a child in care outside the normal admissions round". This is astonishing - the Bill does no such thing. Authorities have no power to direct academies, city technology colleges, trust or foundation schools.

Ms Kelly has just published a requirement on church or foundation schools to give priority to looked-after children of their particular faith. That is no guarantee at all. For example, a Church of England-aided school, which happened to be the appropriate local school for a looked-after child, would not need to admit that child if he or she could not demonstrate the necessary denominational requirements.

And what is this reference to "outside the normal admissions round"? Does this really mean that there will be no guarantee of looked-after children being admitted to their school of choice at the very time when they need to be, namely during the normal admissions round?

Of course looked-after children need security of admission to the school of their choice at all times of the year, but certainly they need it at the key time if their education is to be properly planned and guaranteed.

No legitimate or respectable admissions policy can be based on such insecurity and casuistry. The TES must ask the right questions to get dependable answers. If the Government sincerely wanted to give the guarantees that we are all looking for in the interests of these children, it wouldn't have had to be pressurised to do so - and it wouldn't have sat on its hands since 1997.

Keith Mitchell

Director of education

Durham county council

County Hall, Durham

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