Looked-after children are overlooked

16th March 2012 at 00:00
The pupil premium is not reaching everyone it needs to

Young people in care are in danger of not receiving or bene-fiting from their version of the pupil premium, according to new research.

Only half the professionals working with children looked after by local authorities were certain that they knew about the extra cash designed to help with education, the research said.

Looked-after children are four times less likely to achieve five good GCSEs than their peers, and only just over half reach the expected education level at age 11.

The Open Doors, Open Minds report for the Who Cares? Trust said that those running the pupil premium scheme were not "effectively engaging" social workers and foster carers. This could be a stumbling block for the scheme because, while the government gives pupil-premium funding for children on free school meals directly to schools, the money for looked-after children goes to their local authority, which distributes it to teachers.

Only a quarter of those questioned for the report said that they knew "a lot" about the pupil premium, which is rising from #163;488 to #163;600 this September.

Staff from the charity, which works to improve the lives of looked-after children, spent nine months surveying and interviewing more than 300 people. They spoke directly to 200 professionals working with children in care.

Awareness varied by professional background. Just 40 per cent of social workers and 10 per cent of foster carers said that they had heard of the looked-after children's pupil premium.

The report said that, as a result, the pupil premium would "not be an effective tool for raising standards" unless the government involved foster carers and key workers in children's homes as well as schools in deciding how it should be spent.

"It is vital that those with direct responsibility for the care of looked-after children can support them to achieve well at school and have high aspirations," said Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of the Who Cares? Trust.

And there are other problems. Brian Roberts, who as the "virtual school head" at Peterborough City Council is responsible for the education of local looked-after pupils, told TES that he had found it "hard" to get the premium to schools.

"If children are in school in a different local authority it has been really difficult. It's such a small amount of the school's budget and there is a lot of paperwork to complete," he said.

"We've had to chase them ... They've already got their money for free school meals pupils and if they have only one or two looked-after children, which is common, they can get overlooked. I've distributed 80 per cent of the funding so far."

However, a spokeswoman from the Department for Education said the process of transferring money to schools had been made "as simple as possible" and that a number of local authorities had "now developed effective practice".

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