One in five primaries and one in 10 secondaries has no policy in place to support looked-after children and no plans to introduce one. And a quarter of primaries and 12 per cent of secondaries also have no policy for working with their local authority to support such children's education.
These figures form part of a study examining annual trends in education conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research. The report reveals that schools with high numbers of pupils receiving free school meals are most likely to be ready to support looked-after children.
Primaries in challenging circumstances tend to prioritise the needs of these pupils, as do secondaries in metropolitan areas. The report states:
"At secondary-school level, schools in more affluent areas, with high-ability pupils, were less likely to have such policies already in place - perhaps the types of schools that looked-after children were also the least likely to attend."
This month, the Government released a green paper calling for local authorities to place looked-after children in the best schools, even if they are are oversubscribed. Phil Youdan, of the children's charity NCH, said: "You can't just make policy up on the hoof. If there are no policies in place, schools might be tempted to use it as an excuse not to take looked-after children."
The NFER report found that of those schools that do have specific strategies, the majority focus on encouraging regular school attendance and providing regular praise and encouragement. Others attempt to avoid excluding looked-after children, or try to provide for any additional needs they might have. And schools hold regular review meetings for looked-after children, liaising closely with their carers, and appointing a member of staff to look after their needs. The report concludes: "Local authorities should support schools and their governing bodies in developing and agreeing policies for the educational provision and support of looked-after children, regardless of whether schools currently have any...on the roll."
Sheree Kane, of the National Children's Bureau, said: "It's not just about looked-after children. Understanding the issues that affect vulnerable children can have broader benefit for the community."