'Stability, stability, stability' promise to pupils in care

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Strategy follows thinking of The TES campaign

Popular schools, even if they are oversubscribed, will have to take on looked-after children, under new government proposals. Schools will also be expected to provide catch-up support for these children, to make sure they do not fall behind their classmates. The new recommendations would also give them the right to remain in foster care until the age of 21, and pay their carers a professional salary.

Care Matters, a consultative document announced in parliament this week, fulfils several of the goals laid out in The TES Time to Care manifesto.

But there are fears there is no new money to pay for the proposals.

The document proposes to help teenagers pursue further and higher education by offering a pound;2,000 bursary to pay for university, as well as an extra pound;100 for every year they are in care.

Support during higher education was a key element of The TES six-point manifesto, which was launched in May this year. Of the 60,000 children in the care system, 28 per cent leave care at 16. The average age for all young people to leave the family home is 24.

Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, said: "We can't immediately eradicate all the problems children in care face, but we can remove significant obstacles. What we are trying to create here is stability, stability, stability in these children's lives."

Under the new proposals, looked-after children would be offered free transport, so that they do not have to change school when they are moved to a new care placement. This also formed part of The TES manifesto.

A "virtual headteacher" will be responsible for ensuring children are well-served by schools. This teacher or social worker would take an interest in their educational welfare, attending parents' evenings and following their progress. Social workers will be given pound;500 for every child in care, to spend on music lessons, enrichment activities, or catch-up classes.

But Tim Walker, chief executive of the National Teaching and Advisory Service, said: "Social workers haven't got the time to spend on those children who... don't cause problems, but are quietly failing," he said. "The system needs a radical overhaul. Nothing will change otherwise."

In June, Lord Adonis, the schools minister, announced plans to send children in care to boarding school in an attempt to improve their results.

The Government is also committed to raising the quality of foster care and children's homes through new qualifications and training. Foster carers will receive a salary, instead of relying on benefits. Mr Johnson said it would not be a "token honorarium, but a proper salary" to give the job status. Tiered salaries would recognise both qualifications and the level of children's needs.

Meanwhile, intensive family-therapy sessions would be used to try to avoid separating children from their parents. Other strategies, such as placing the child with extended family or family friends, would also be considered.

A spokesman for the Association of Directors of Children's Services said: "Changes to placement systems, foster care and workforce patterns are vitally important if we are to improve services. But change doesn't come cheap."

Many of the proposals would be funded through existing budgets. For example, catch-up support in schools would be paid for through the pound;980 million budget for personalised learning.

Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT union, said the proposals will move towards tackling disadvantage and narrowing the achievement gap, but they needed to be resourced properly.

Consultation will close at the end of January.

Alan johnson, 21 www.dfes.gov.ukconsultationsThe TES Time to Care campaign will culminate in a one-day symposium in London on November 14. Email: timetocare@tes.co.uk. Speakers will include Parmjit Dhanda, minister responsible for looked-after children and Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Tickets are free. To apply email timetocare@tes.co.uk


* A veto for young people over any decisions about moving from care before they turn 18.

* The right to live with foster carers up to the age of 21.

* Individual budgets for each child to be held by the social worker.

* An expectation that looked-after children will be placed in the best, local school, even if it is already oversubscribed.

* Guaranteed catch-up support.

* A "virtual headteacher" to look after their welfare.

* New qualifications, training and salaries for foster carers.

* Free access to leisure centres and youth clubs.

* pound;500 for enrichment activities and pound;2,000 for university.

* Free school transport to avoid the need to change schools with each new foster placement.

* Enhanced support to enable them to stay with birth families.

Facts about care

* There are 60,000 children in care; 85,000 move through the system in a year.

* 44 per cent of them are aged between 10 and 15.

* 13 per cent had three or more placements in 20056.

* Only 11 per cent achieved five A*-C grades at GCSE, compared with 54 per cent nationally.

* Looked-after children are nine times more likely to have a statement of special needs; 28 per cent leave care at the age of 16.

* Only 6 per cent go on to university.

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