Shunted from school to school, stereotyped, and often not even entered for GCSEs, pupils in care are getting a raw deal. Today The TES calls on ministers to act. Jon Slater and Shafik Meghji report
School - and particularly staying at the same school - has been really important to 17-year-old Jess Lee.
Her teenage years have been turbulent. At the age of 13, she ran away from her mother because of abuse and neglect. After an unsuccessful stay with her father, she ran away again and was placed in foster care.
"Social services wanted to move me out of the area but I said I wouldn't go," said Jess. "If you're constantly changing schools it's very difficult."
Too many children like Jess do not get the support they need to succeed at school. More than half of those in care leave school without a single GCSE and just 6 per cent gain five or more A*-C grades. More than a third are not entered for a single GCSE.
Today, The TES launches the second phase of our Time to Care campaign with a six-point manifesto, above, to improve the education of children in care.
It calls for the 65,000 children in care in England and Wales to be given the same advantages in life that their middle-class peers take for granted.
A right to private tuition for GCSEs, support from carers up to the age of 21, and help at home with their schoolwork should all be part of the Government's strategy to end the scandal of underachievement.
The manifesto also calls for children who move placements to be offered free transport to their exisiting school if it is within an hour's journey time of their new home.
"That would really help," said Jess. She has no doubt the manifesto could make a real difference. "When you have all this stuff going on in your personal life it can be very difficult to concentrate in the classroom," she said. "Free private tuition would really help. Providing more resources for schools to help children in care would also be good.
"I missed most of Year 10 and it was very difficult. Fortunately certain teachers who knew I was determined to leave school with good GCSE results gave me extra help," she said.
Although most of Jess's teachers at Torquay community college were very supportive, and Jess left with 11 GCSEs, she believes many need training to make them more aware of the needs of looked-after children.
"Most of my teachers were fantastic but there were some that didn't really understand the situation and didn't know what to do with you," she said.
Official figures show wide variations in the achievement of children in care in different authorities. In Hartlepool, 85 per cent of children leave school without a single GCSE. This compares to 24 per cent in south Gloucestershire.
The TES manifesto aims to increase pressure on ministers and councils to make a real difference to the achievement and lives of children who are looked after by local authorities. If implemented, it would help ensure more equal chances for looked-after children regardless of where they live.
The manifesto has been drawn up after consultation with charities, teacher unions, care-leavers and academics, as well as taking account of the views expressed by TES readers on our website.
A symposium in November, sponsored by HSBC bank, will bring together the leading practitioners and experts in this area with the aim of producing a more detailed campaign document.
As well as increasing educational support for looked-after children at home, the manifesto demands extra resources for schools to enable them to meet their needs.
Concerted action is needed to minimise the number of times children have to move school, reducing disruption to their education. Evidence collected during the campaign suggests higher pay for foster carers and better home-to-school transport will also help.
The manifesto comes weeks before the Government is expected to publish a green paper setting out its strategy to improve the education of children in care.
The campaign has won support from a number of leading education figures (see panel opposite). In March, Ruth Kelly, then the education secretary, backed the TES campaign and announced children in care would be guaranteed a place at their first-choice school.
Jess now lives independently in Alfreton, Derbyshire. She is studying for a health and social care GNVQ and is a volunteer for The Children's Society charity, who supported her when she ran away from home. "When I finish my course I want to train to become a youth worker and work with runaways," she said. "To help people who are in a similar situation to the one I was in."
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