Schools look set to fail ambitious government targets to improve achievements of children in care as new figures show just 14 per cent manage to get five good GCSEs and only a third reach the required level in maths Sats exams.
The statistics, for summer 2008, show the performance of looked-after pupils in national assessment has remained virtually static for five years. Ministers want strong improvements in exam results by 2011.
Last year's results show children in care did worse in national tests as they got older. Around 57 per cent scored at least level 2 at key stage 1 in reading, an increase of just 2 percentage points from 2007, but just 33 per cent got at least a level 5 in maths at key stage 3, up 2 per cent.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families says 60 per cent of looked-after children should get level 4 in English at key stage 2 in two years' time - just 46 per cent achieve this now and the figure has remained unchanged since 2007.
Other targets for 2011 are 55 per cent getting level 4 in key stage 2 maths. Just 44 per cent of children in care achieve this now, up 1 per cent since 2007.
Ministers want 20 per cent of looked after children to get five A* to C GCSEs within two years. The numbers currently achieving this rose 1 percentage point in 2008.
There are around 33,000 children in care in English schools, 28 per cent have a statement of special educational needs, 12 per cent miss at least 25 days of school and 1 per cent are permanently excluded.
Care Matters, the Government white paper published last year, said urgent action was needed and local authorities should have new duties to be "corporate parents".
Ed Balls has written to all local authorities urging them to go "further and faster" to improve attainment of children in care.
There are some success stories. Three years ago just 7 per cent of children in care in Bristol got five good GCSEs; today, 18 per cent do.
Children get a "virtual" headteacher - a staff member who monitors their results and gets help with problems - and one to one tutoring and extra technology.
The council has written a pledge explaining what services the children should get.
Karen Gazzard, corporate parenting strategic lead for Bristol Council, said: "We are trying to give children ambition. It's important to remember many children come into the care system when they are older, so much of what we do involves helping them to catch up on work they might have missed."
Pam Hibbert, assistant director of policy and research for Barnardo's, said she thought government policy didn't go far enough. "The Care Matters agenda doesn't extend to academies and, although care leavers are helped to go to university, looked-after children don't get as much support if they choose to do vocational training.
"But we believe the Government could and should be doing better on this issue," she said.
A SNAPSHOT OF PUPILS IN CARE
At the end of Year 11, 69 per cent of looked-after children remained in full-time education and 16 per cent were unemployed the September after leaving school, figures for last year show. In 2007, the figures were 66 per cent and 17 per cent.
Children in care in Bury were the best in the country in key stage 3 Sats exams: 56 per cent got level 5 in maths and science and 61 per cent got level 5 in English. No children in care in North Tyneside or Merton in South London achieved grade 5.
Just 53 per cent of children in care in North Lincolnshire and Wakefield sat GCSE exams last summer, 41 per cent in Havering, 50 per cent in Worcestershire and 45 per cent in Peterborough.
In Trafford, around 46 per cent of children in care got five good GCSEs, 29 per cent in Knowsley and 32 per cent in North Tyneside. This compares with none at all in Blackpool, Warrington, Swindon and Torbay, 10 per cent in Manchester, 9 per cent in Leeds and 7 per cent in Hertfordshire.