Neglect in care;Bournemouth 99;Labour Party Conference

1st October 1999 at 01:00

THE EDUCATION system has failed the country's most vulnerable group of children, said minister Jacqui Smith.

Speaking at a fringe meeting organised by Barnados and The TES, she said she had been shocked to learn the statistics relating to looked-after children: that they are 60 times more likely to be homeless, 88 times more likely to be victims of alcohol and drug abuse and a quarter of girls become pregnant before they are 16, compared with the national figure of one in 25.

"The fact that The TES had to carry out its own survey on the education of looked-after children because many local authorities did not have the information shows how much there is to do," she said.

It is a scandal, she added, that three-quarters of children in care gain no GCSEs.

The meeting was given a first-hand account of the experiences of looked after children from teenagers Cyndy Williams and Davson Sivapatham, from Lewisham, south London.

Ms Smith said schools should be given more support to take on children in care, many of whom have disturbed and abusive backgrounds.

LOWERING the voting age to 16 received support from MPs this week, during a fringe meeting about citizenship.

Charlotte Atkins, an MP and member of the education select committee, said: "At the age of 16, young people - particularly girls - are more mature these days." Graham Lane, education spokesman for the Local Government Association, supported lowering the age of consent. He also called for greater participation by pupils in the governance of schools.

ALL 16 to 18-year-olds in education or training will be entitled to a Youth Card, which will record their attendance and achievement and offer shopping discounts.

The cards, announced by Tony Blair at the conference, are to be piloted in nine areas before going nationwide. Firms that have already agreed to provide discounts with the cards include British Telecom and WH Smith.

LABOUR'S blunt attitude towards failure in education is necessary, school standards minister Estelle Morris told a fringe meeting organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

It was now easier than ever for able young people to get on in life, regardless of their background, colour or gender. But high aspirations had not always been there.

"That's why the language of the first two years had to be hard," she told delegates at the debate, entitled: "Is education the best route to social justice?"

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